The singer died of complications from leukemia with her husband Artis Mills and her sons by her side, according to longtime friend and manager Lupe De Leon. James, who also suffered from dementia and hepatitis, passed away at a hospital in Riverside, CA. She would've been 74 next Wednesday.
"This is a tremendous loss for the family, her friends and fans around the world," De Leon said. "She was a true original who could sing it all -- her music defied category.
"I worked with Etta for over 30 years. She was my friend and I will miss her always."
While James may be best known for "At Last," a lush, romantic ballad with smooth strings, the singer's rollercoaster life was anything but. Born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles to a teenage mother and an unknown father, she was raised by a string of different people before her mother moved them to San Francisco.
After starting a group called The Peaches she was discovered by singer Johnny Otis and eventually singed with Chess records. In the ensuing decades James endured troubled relationships with her family, men and the music business, and battled heroin addiction, but endured long enough to earn her the admiration of her peers and new artists like Adele. The British singer named James and Aretha Franklin as one of her favorite singers.
"If you were to look up the word singer in the dictionary, you'd see their names," Adele said in an interview. James also got the biopic treatment in 2008 when Beyonce portrayed the singer in the film Cadillac Records. Up until recently, James maintained a steady touring schedule, thrilling audiences with her voice even when she simply sat down onstage due to weight issues.
Throughout her storied career, James won six Grammys, opened for the Rolling Stones and was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993. Get into a few of Etta's classics below.