Etta James died last Friday, and the outpouring of praise and tributes came as usual. That’s not to say she wasn’t deserving of the various titles that came up, like Jerry Wexler’s famous coronation “the greatest of all modern blues singers”. But for James, she’d been hearing it for a while, and for someone like her, it was quite a thing to be memorialized before she felt she was done.
Despite recording some of the most indelible, iconic R&B tracks of the 1950s and ‘60s, James never achieved the same level of fame or recognition that some of her peers did. She consistently charted on the R&B charts and remained a top concert draw, but crossover success eluded her; she never became an Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross. Not that her disposition and habits would have let her—James lost good portions of her career to her drug habit, and her forceful personality would prove as much a drawback as an asset.