Many times over you will no doubt see something that seems to hit a personal note. May you enjoy the monthly series.
This month: Etta James who died January 20, 2012, is one such story of overcoming odds, her memory telling a bittersweet life's lesson-Ms. Etta James.
Like most icons, Etta James, born of humble beginnings in the Watts section of Los Angeles, California could not have predicted how her life would transition to fame and fortune. Born to Dorothy Hawkins on January 25, 1938, it would not be long before the sprouts of her vocal talents were seen and heard.
Young Jamesetta Hawkins, as she was known by her given name back then, at the tender young age of five, would be guided under the gospel tutelage of church director James Earle Hines, who started her on the road of being professionally trained.
With that throaty, deep bluesy tone, and a new dream, she was on the move as her mother Dorothy, in 1950, uprooted her family to San Francisco with aspirations of turning this natural born songbird into a star. By her mid teens she met with two other girls, Abye and Jean Michelle. From there, would form the singing group the "Creolettes".
Later she would venture out on a solo career in which she had some hits and misses but in 1960 after signing with Chess Records, who at the time was the number one R&B label in the country, went on to produce her album entitled "At Last". She met and married a man named Harvey Fuqua who was the founder of the Moonglows, a group from Cleveland Ohio. Harvey would mentor her and catapulted Etta to unimaginable fame with the self-titled album single, "At Last".
She never really lived the good life as some would have thought. Her early upbringing was fraught with sadness and misgivings. Partly due to the many absences of her mother. Other guardians, two most notably being "Sarge" and "Mama Lu" who saw their young charge as a potential money maker, instead of serving as proper guardians to instill strong morals and protection in life, failed miserably.
One such incident involved "Sarge" who tried to force the church in which the young Etta sang at, to pay out a fee in order to allow the gospel appearances of the child to continue. Of course the church refused but that did not stop the demeaning behavior as Etta would be ceremoniously awakened quite often in the middlle of the night during Sarge's poker games. In his drunken rage would often beat her and make her sing for his guests. Having issues with bed wetting meant Etta would still have to belt out her tunes, urine soaked and all.
While this led to her fear of singing on command, she went on to later deliver hits such as "At Last" that will play in our hearts for generations to come, which was an astonishing achievement back in the day since she did not produce or write the song. It had actually been written long before in 1941 by two gentlemen, Mark Gordon and Harry Warren which saw limited success by the Glenn Miller Band. Ray Eberle and Pat Friday were the first credited crooners of the song. Somehow though, Etta made it all her own. She would later marry another man, Artis Mills with whom she had two sons.
In much later years there was the outburst of words she had regarding Beyonce, for offering a rendition of her song at the Obama Inauguaral Ball. Despite these infamous stints, the truth is, she was a woman who spent the better part of her life fighting untold abuse, mystery shrouding who her real father was, drug addiction, Alzheimers and lastly the disease that claimed her life, Leukemia.
Miss Peaches, as she was also known will never be forgotten. If a picture does tell a thousand words, we can barely tap the surface or know the life she truly led behind that deep look in her eyes. No matter the age, when we hear those famous notes before the echoeing of the two famous words, we will remember one and all that Etta could really sing and touched millions of hearts with just one song. May her husband Artis Mills, sons, Donto and Sametto who performed with their mother in 2003 on drums and bass guitar, respectively, remembering the good times.
May we remember the woman behind the voice and know that every story does not have to be a rainbow in order to add rich color and texture to our lives.