Celebrating Black History: Etta James
February is Black History Month and we’re featuring stories of black female artists through history. KVCR’s Shareen Awad talks about legendary singer Etta James and her numerous accomplishments.
Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles. Her mother always encouraged her to sing, telling her, “even if a song has been done a thousand times, you can still bring something of your own to it.” And that she did.
By the time she was 5 years old, Etta James was already well known in the church and on the radio, as a gospel prodigy. At 12, she formed a singing trio and worked for bandleader Johnny Otis with the Otis Band. It wasn’t long before the determined vocalist launched her solo career with the hit "Good Rockin' Daddy" in 1955.
Etta James is best known for her powerful, earthy vocals, belting out hits like "I'd Rather Go Blind" and "At Last." She won numerous Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Billboard listed Etta James as one of The 35 Greatest R&B Artists Of All Time, stating that her "gutsy, take-no-prisoner vocals colorfully interpreted everything from blues and R&B/soul to rock n’ roll, jazz and gospel".
KVCR’s Interim General Manager Alfredo Cruz was a big fan of Etta James’ music, with Something’s Got a Hold of Me and A Sunday Kind of Love being a couple of his early favorites. He had the opportunity to interview her and attend her concert, once upon a time.
Did you know that Etta James was a long-time resident of Riverside, residing in the Woodcrest area? Wanting to escape street violence of Los Angeles and finally have a place to park her car, she moved to the Inland Empire, stating that her grandmother would always say, “I would sure love to live in Riverside”.
Next time you cruise through Riverside, play the soulful sounds of Etta James and reminisce on good times.