Blues legend Etta James was given a powerful final send-off on Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Greater Bethany Community Church City of Refuge in Gardena, Calif., where family members and celebrity friends paid their final respects.
According to CNN, more than 300 of James’ family and friends attended her funeral service, which was highlighted by tributes from soul-funk legend Stevie Wonder, pop siren Christina Aguilera and Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sharpton presided over the funeral and begin the service by reading a personal statement from President Barack Obama.
“Etta will be remembered for her legendary voice and her contributions to our nation’s musical heritage. I know she will be sorely missed by all those who knew and loved her,” read the statement from President Obama.
“Etta James has given us too much to work with,” Sharpton said. “Etta James was for real. She was authenticI think it was her authenticity that was part of the charisma that drew people to her. She really became a bridge of American culture that changed the culture of the world. It was Etta James that bridged rhythm and blues with rock and roll.
“Etta James helped break down the culture curtain of America before the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Sharpton eulogized. “She was able to get us to sing the same rhythms and melodies and humming the same ballads and understanding each other’s melodies way before we could even use the same hotels.”
Shartpon added, “At last, you can find peace now! At last, you can get the gratitude of the savior now. Etta, you made it, you’re going home. At last! At last! At last!” shouted Sharpton, bringing the audience to a standing ovation.
Sharpton wasn’t the only one who paid powerful tribute to James. Wonder also stirred the crowd, singing three songs, including “Shelter in the Rain” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” during which he performed a harmonica solo.
Aguilera, who has cited James as her musical idol on numerous occasions, spoke highly of the singer. “Out of all the singers that I’ve ever heard, she was the one that cut right to my soul and spoke to me,” said Aguilera, before bringing the audience to their feet with a powerful rendition of “At Last,” singing directly to James flower-adorned casket.
U.S Rep Maxine Waters, D-Calif, also paid tribute to James, calling her an inspiration to black women across the globe.
“Etta is special to me and for me, because she represents the life, the triumphs, the tribulations of a lot of black women all over this world,” said Waters. “It does not matter who sang ‘At Last’ before or after Etta. It does not matter when it was sung, or where it was sung. ‘At Last’ was branded by Etta, the raunchy diva — that’s her signature and we will always remember her.”
Perhaps the most moving speech came from her eldest son, Donto James, who recalled the indomitable spirit of his mother, the love she had for her music and her band, and his need to protect his beloved mother.
“She was feisty, very feisty. I found myself as a son trying to clean up some things. I should have tried to stay out of it. I don’t know what I was doing,” said Donto. “Mom, I love you. When I get to the gates, can you please be there for me?”
James, born Jamesetta Hawkins, passed away on Jan. 20 after a long-term battle with leukemia. She is survived by her husband of 42 years, Artis Mills and two sons, Donto and Sametto James. Our greatest condolences go out to her family and friends and may she finally rest in peace. Below, you can check out photos from James’ funeral service. –nicholas robinson