1968 Etta James – Tell Mama
Jamesetta Hawkins grew up in Watts (in Los Angeles) and lived in multiple foster homes. When she turned 12, she moved to San Francisco and soon started her own group, The Creolettes. Two years later, she met Johnny Otis, and he signed the group to Modern Records.
The group changed its name to The Peaches, and Johnny convinced her to change her name from Jamesetta to Etta James.
Their group recorded an answer song to Hank Ballard’s hit Work With Me Annie. Writing credit for the song included Hank as well as both John and Etta. Their song carried the title Roll with Me, Henry, but that had to be changed to The Wallflower to avoid the sexual connotations that came from the original title.
The record label credit read “Etta James and the Peaches.” They recorded the single in 1954, released it in 1955, and the record spent four weeks at the top of the R&B chart.
Georgia Gibbs recorded a cover version of the song titled Dance With Me Henry, which reached #1 on the Hot 100 in 1955.
Etta released a second top ten R&B single as a follow-up, but most of her singles for the next four years failed to reach any charts.
Chess Records signed Etta in 1960 and had her release some duets with Harvey Fuqua on Argo Records, one of their smaller labels. Her first album with the label included several R&B top ten singles, including At Last, a song from the 1941 film, Sun Valley Serenade.
Etta had ten top ten singles on the R&B chart between 1960 and 1966, but most of them did poorly on the pop charts.
Her biggest hit on the Hot 100 came in 1967 when she released Tell Mama. Clarence Carter wrote the song as Tell Daddy, but his version failed to find an audience. Etta’s single reached #23 on the Hot 100 and #10 on the R&B chart.
Etta’s next single stalled at #35 on the Hot 100, and she never reached the top forty again. By 1974, her records were no longer hits on the R&B chart either.
Her battle with drug addiction caused her to leave the music industry in 1978. She slowly began public performances again in 1982, concentrating on jazz-related events. She began recording new albums again in 1989.
Etta’s health became a struggle, and she died in 2012, three days after Johnny Otis passed away.
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