100 Greatest Singers
January 25th, 1938
Key Tracks "At Last," "Sunday Kind of Love," "Tell Mama"
Influenced Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Christina Aguilera
"There's a lot going on in Etta James' voice," says Bonnie Raitt. "A lot of pain, a lot of life but, most of all, a lot of strength." James is often thought of as the ultimate blues mama, her voice a steamroller fueled by brass and sass. But as the lush, soaring "At Last," a Number Two R&B hit in 1961, reveals every time it's played as first dance at a wedding, James — still going strong in her sixth decade of performing despite a notoriously hard-knock life — isn't limited to wailing; she's equally powerful and entirely distinctive whether she's singing pop, jazz, ballads or rock. "She can be so raucous and down one song, and then break your heart with her subtlety and finesse the next," says Raitt. "As raw as Etta is, there's a great intelligence and wisdom in her singing."