Christina Aguilera Etta James

January 29, 2012 by staff 

Christina Aguilera Etta James, Legendary singer Etta James was eulogized with stirring musical performances from chart-topping stars Christina Aguilera and Stevie Wonder, and the Rev. Al Sharpton honored the Riverside resident as “the original diva” at private funeral ceremonies Saturday morning.

President Barack Obama sent his condolences through a letter, read by Sharpton at the beginning of the service at the Greater Bethany Community Church City of Refuge in Gardena. The Obama family expressed sadness at the loss and wrote of her lasting legacy in music, saying, “Etta will be remembered for her legendary voice.”

The soulful singer, a resident of the Woodcrest area of Riverside, died Jan. 20 at age 73 after battling leukemia. Sharpton talked about James’ trials and triumphs.

“Etta James’ life was a life of pain and glory,” Sharpton said. “The genius of Etta was that she flipped the script she waited until she turned her pain into power.”

Born Jamesetta Hawkins to a teenage mother in South Los Angeles in 1938, Etta James grew up there and in San Francisco as a tough street kid before becoming one of the world’s best known singers in a career that spanned more than a half century with hits such as “At Last” and “Tell Mama.”

Her life, often mired in substance abuse and health problems, was told in the 2003 autobiography “Rage to Survive.” Her life also was central to much of the plot of the 2008 film “Cadillac Records.”

She used the tempest of her life to drive her compelling performances, and through her husky and emotional voice, helped to make mainstream America aware of the difficult conditions faced by many urban blacks at that time. Sharpton honored her for helping in the fight for racial equality.

“Etta James helped break down the color curtain in America before the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Sharpton, who told the audience that James Brown introduced him to the singer.

James dabbled in everything from blues, jazz, gospel and country to straight-up rock ‘n’ roll over her career. She won awards, accolades and the respect of peers and fellow legends along the way.

Aguilera, a contemporary diva, paid homage in words and music to James. Of all the singers in the world, James was “the one who cut right to my soul,” Aguilera said before singing James’ signature number, “At Last.”

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