(CBS/AP) – Etta James, the R&B singer whose enduring hits include “At Last” and “Tell Mama,” has died at the age of 73.
James’ longtime manager Lupe De Leon told The Associated Press the singer died early Friday at Riverside Community Hospital, in California, with her husband and sons by her side. De Leon said the cause of death is complications of leukemia.
“It’s a tremendous loss for her fans around the world,” he said. “She’ll be missed. A great American singer. Her music defied category.”
James had been suffering from dementia, kidney problems, and battling leukemia. In December 2011, her physician announced that her leukemia was terminal, and asked for prayers for the singer. During her illness, her husband Artis Mills and her two sons fought bitterly over control of her $1 million estate, though a deal was later struck keeping Mills as the conservator and capping the singer’s expenses at $350,000.
Boldness was as much a trademark of James, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as her platinum-dyed mane. She scored her first hit when she was just a teenager with the suggestive “Roll with Me, Henry,” which had to be changed to “The Wallflower” in order to get airplay. Over the years, she’d notch many more, carving a niche for herself with her husky, soulful voice and her sassy attitude, which permeated her songs.
But it was her jazz-inflected rendition of “At Last” that would come to define her and make her legendary. The song, which starts with sumptuous strings before James begins to sing, was a remake of a 1941 standard. James made it her own, and her version became the new standard.