The service was held at Greater Bethany Community Church City of Refuge in Gardena. A widely-attended public viewing took place on Friday at the Inglewood Cemetery Mortuary, where fans waited for hours to bid farewell to the singer, who died on January 20 at the age of 73.
The Reverend Al Sharpton presided over the funeral, opening by delivering a message from President Barack Obama, who famously danced with the First Lady to James’ song “At Last” during his first inaugural ball.
“Etta will be remembered for her legendary voice and her contributions to our nation’s musical heritage,” Obama’s statement read. “I know she will be sorely missed by all those who knew and loved her.”
Stevie Wonder performed with a church choir, singing “Shelter in the Rain,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” and playing a harmonica solo.
“Out of all the singers that I’ve ever heard, she was the one that cut right to my soul and spoke to me,” Christina Aguilera told the audience, before singing “At Last.”
U.S. Rep Maxine Waters was also there to offer some words of remembrance.
“Etta is special to me and for me, because she represents the life, the triumphs, the tribulations of a lot of black women all over this world,” Waters said. “It does not matter who sang ‘At Last’ before or after Etta. It does not matter when it was sung, or where it was sung. ‘At Last’ was branded by Etta, the raunchy diva – that’s her signature and we will always remember her.”
In his eulogy, Sharpton described James’ incredible rise from poverty and addiction.
“The genius of Etta James is she flipped the script,” Sharpton said, and praised her for helping break down racial barriers through her music. “She was able to get us on the same rhythms and humming the same ballads and understanding each other’s melodies way before we could even use the same hotels.”
“At last, you can find peace now!” Sharpton concluded. “At last, you can get the gratitude of the savior now. Etta, you made it, you’re going home. At last! At last! At last!”