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Etta James funeral: Celebrities give singer a rousing send-off

January 29, 2012 |  8:18 am

Pioneering R&B singer Etta James got a rousing send-off Saturday from fans and celebrities including Stevie Wonder and Christina Aguilera.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who officiated at the private ceremony at the City of Refuge Church in Gardena, lauded James because she "flipped the switch on the script" that at some points in her tumultuous life veered perilously close to ending on a note of tragedy.

Sharpton preceded his comments by reading a message from President Obama that said, "Etta will be remembered for her legendary voice and for her many contributions to our nation's musical heritage."

James died Jan. 20 at age 73 from complications of chronic leukemia. She had been struggling with the onset of dementia.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), after noting how James had started her life in music as a child singing in a Los Angeles church only a few miles from where the funeral service took place, said James won fans not only through her music but from the example of the struggles she overcame.

"Etta has always been one of my artistic heroines," Waters said. "Think about the strength of a woman who beat her addictions: her food addiction, her drug addiction … and when times were tough, even performing from a wheelchair. ... Etta is special to me because she represents the life, the trials and the tribulations of a lot of black women all over this world.... She was a survivor, and I love her for that."

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--Randy Lewis

Photo: Hundreds gathered at City of Refuge Church in Gardena to mourn the loss of legendary R&B singer Etta James. Stevie Wonder, who sang a song with the choir in James' honor, was among those in attendance. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times
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