Etta James: Stars attend funeral of Blues legend

media captionStars perform and family and friends say goodbye at the funeral service

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Los Angeles for the funeral of US rhythm and blues star Etta James, who died earlier this month at the age of 73.

Civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton gave a rousing speech about her rise from poverty and drug addiction to make music that crossed racial divides.

He read a statement from US President Barack Obama, who praised her part in "our nation's musical heritage".

Stars Stevie Wonder and Christina Aguilera performed some of her hits.

Etta James died on 20 January after battling leukaemia.


In his eulogy, Rev Sharpton described Etta James as a "bridge of American culture that changed the culture of the world".

image captionThe singer's anguished blues vocals made her stand out, even as a child

"Etta James helped break down the culture curtain of America before the Civil Rights Act of 1964," he said. "She was able to get us to sing the same rhythms and melodies."

He began the two-hour service by reading the statement from President Obama, who danced at his inaugural ball to Etta James' most famous song At Last.

"Etta will be remembered for her legendary voice and her contributions to our nation's musical heritage," Mr Obama said.

Stevie Wonder performed three songs, including Shelter in the Rain, while Christina Aguilera performed a version of At Last.

"Out of all the singers that I've ever heard, she was the one that cut right to my soul and spoke to me," Ms Aguilera said before her performance.

Rebuilt career

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins to a teenage single mother in 1938.

image captionEtta James died from complications of leukaemia

Raised mainly by friends and relatives, she began singing when her grandparents took her to a Baptist Church, where she joined the choir as a soloist.

Later in San Francisco she formed a singing group, but it was not until 1960, when James became a solo artist, that she began to achieve musical recognition.

However, her success in the 1960s was hindered by an addiction to heroin, and she was forced to rebuild her career after quitting the drug in 1974.

Although she was popular on the R&B circuit throughout her career, mainstream success eluded her for many years.

She did not receive her first Grammy Award until 1994, for the album Mystery Lady, which consisted of covers of Billie Holiday songs. In 2003, she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

She leaves husband Artist Mills and and two sons Donto and Sametto.

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