Jamesetta Hawkins’ mother was 14 when she was born and her white father was unknown. James speculated that her father was the famous pool player, Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, and met him briefly in 1987. The young James was brought up by a series of caregivers, as her mother was nicknamed by James as "the Mystery Lady". By the age of 14 she had formed a doo-wop group, and under the name the Peaches they recorded "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" which reached #1 on the rhythm and blues charts in 1955. Even after she left the group, her nickname remained Miss Peaches.
In 1960, James signed a recording contract with Argo Records, a subsidiary of Chess Records. Chess imagined James as more than just an R&B artist and heard she had potential to cross over onto the pop charts. Chess began backing James on her recording sessions with violins and other string instruments, which was first heard on her 1961 hit, "At Last". The song went to #2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1961, and ultimately became her signature song. Although James released 30 albums and 58 singles, but due to her heroin addiction during the 60s and 70s, her career was erratic. She kicked the habit in 1974, and slowly rebuilt her career, playing at small clubs and music festivals, and then opening for the Rolling Stones in the mid 80s, before releasing her first album on a major label for seven years in 1989. The Seven Year Itch caught the attention of the music industry and she began receiving major industry awards from the Grammys and the Blues Foundation.
In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked her #62 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The Blues Foundation has awarded Etta James the Soul/Blues Female Artist of the Year nine–times. Etta James has received six Grammy Awards. Her first was in 1994, when she was awarded Best Jazz Vocal Performance for the album Mystery Lady, which consisted of covers of Billie Holiday songs. Two other albums have also won awards, Let's Roll (Best Contemporary Blues Album) in 2003, and Blues To The Bone (Best Traditional Blues Album) in 2004. Two of her early songs have been given Grammy Hall of Fame Awards for "qualitative or historical significance": "At Last" and "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)". In 2003, she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
What a rare gem she was!