Etta James honored by friends and family at star-studded funeral
Etta James was honored on Saturday with a star-studded funeral, which featured performances by Stevie Wonder and Christina Aguilera.
Hundreds of friends and family members gathered at the Greater Bethany Community Church City of Refuge in Gardena, Calif. for the funeral of the rhythm and blues singer, who died on Friday, January 20 at age 73 in California after battling blood cancer for years.
Rev. Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy, where he said that James "bridged rhythm and blues and rock and roll." Aguilera performed James' most famous song, "At Last" while Wonder performed with the church's choir, according to the Associated Press.
"Etta was the original diva," Sharpton said. "Etta was the one that brought class and a level of swagger that generations behind will try, but they'll never quite have the strut, and swagger and talent of Etta James... At last you can find peace now!"
At the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball after Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, Beyonce performed James' song "At Last" and Sharpton opened his eulogy with a statement from the president.
"Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of James and we extend our heartfelt condolences as you mourn her loss and reflect upon her life," Obama's statement read. "Etta will be remembered for her legendary voice and her contributions to our nation's musical heritage."
The Grammy-winning R&B, blues and soul singer, known for songs such as "At Last" and "Tell Mama," passed away at a Southern California hospital from complications of her leukemia, according to her longtime friend and manager, Lupe De Leon. The singer's sons, Sametto and Donto, and husband Artis Mills, their stepfather, were with her at the time.
James died five days before what would have been her 74th birthday. She had been undergoing treatment for her blood cancer for the past few years and also battled ailments such as dementia and kidney failure. In December 2011, her doctor said that her chronic leukemia was deemed incurable. James spent several weeks in hospital that month and was released on January 5.
In December, Mills was made the permanent conservator over the singer's $1 million estate.
James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on Jan. 25, 1938. The Southern California native and church singer began her professional music career in the 1950s and released her debut album, "At Last," in 1961. It contained the title track, which became a hit.
She later became known for songs such as "Pushover," released in 1963, "Tell Mama," which came out in 1967, and "I'd Rather Go Blind," which was released a year later.
James was famously portrayed by fellow R&B singer Beyonce in the 2008 film "Cadillac Records."
"This is a huge loss," Beyonce said about the singer's death, in a message posted on her website on Friday. "Etta James was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. I am so fortunate to have met such a queen. Her musical contributions will last a lifetime."
James won three Grammys throughout her career - her first came in 1994, for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her album "Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday." She won her second Grammy in 2003, for Best Contemporary Blues Album for her record "Let's Roll." Her third came in 2004, given for Best Traditional Blues Album for her record "Blues To The Bone." She also received a lifetime achievement honor.
Watch clips of Christina Aguilera's performance of "At Last" and Rev. Al Sharpton's sermon below.