When President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama took for the floor for their first dance at the 2009 inaugural ball, Beyoncé was singing "At Last." Such was the enduring cultural influence of Etta James, who recorded that strings-gleaming wedding staple in 1961 and who, CNN is reporting, has died at 73.
"Soul's first queen," as SPIN called her last year, James passed away with her husband and two sons at her side, her longtime friend and manager Lupe De Leon told reporters. De Leon cited complications from leukemia as the cause of death. James, who would've turned 74 on January 25, found out she had leukemia in 2010. She was also fighting dementia and hepatitis C.
"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."
The bleach-blonde vocal dynamo's first hit — "The Wallflower (Roll With Me, Henry)," a response to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie" — topped the R&B charts in 1955, when she was still in her teens. She later received acclaim for her early '60s Chess recordings, including "At Last" as well as "Something's Got a Hold on Me," and had a late '60s Muscle Schoals renaissance with songs like "Tell Mama." Hers was a career that spanned heroin addiction, an opening slot for the Rolling Stones, six Grammys, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
James' story continued to tickle pop cultural curiosities in the decades after her biggest successes. Beyoncé portrayed her in the film Cadillac Records and a sample from "Something's Got a Hold On Me" memorably popped up last year in Flo-Rida's electro-rap single "Good Feeling." On Twitter, artists as varied as the Roots' ?uestlove, Paramore's Hayley Williams, and dubstep queen Katy B have already paid their condolences.