Student Work – Etta James and Don Cornelius

Etta James by Lawrence Austin

Etta James - click for source

Jamesetta Hawkins was born on January 25th, 1938 to 14 year old mother in Los Angeles, California.  She would later become Etta James, the pioneering rhythm and blues singer who died on January 20th,, 2012 at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside, California from complications relating to leukemia at the age of 73.

Etta James began her career singing in the choir of St. Paul Baptist Church when she was singled out for her solos by the church’s music minister when she was 5 or 6 years old.

Throughout her 60 year career, Etta have sung many songs, however the one that got her noticed was one called “Roll With Me Henry”, a response to Hank Ballard’s “Work With Me Annie” which was itself  described as” a ribald , thinly veiled invitation to a woman to have sex.” Etta’s version was popular but controversial being that she was only 17 years old when she did this song and at that time, society was not as tolerant of “suggestive” lyrics as they are today. She went on to do many others, the most acclaimed of which is “At Last” which President and Mrs. Obama danced to at his inauguration ball and was recently redone by Beyonce Knowles.

In 2008, the movie “Cadillac Records” was released staring Beyonce Knowles. “Cadillac Records” was seen as a semi-biographical history of Etta James and her emergence in the music industry. In a statement on her website, Beyonce is quoted as saying, “Etta James was one of the greatest vocalists of our time, her musical contributions will last a lifetime.” Etta James won three Grammy awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Throughout her lifetime, Etta struggled with two “demons.” The first being drug addiction. With role models like Billie Holliday, Ray Charles and Chet Barker, it is easy to see how a young Etta James could become ensnared in the trap of drug addiction. She later told The Times in 1993, “All of my role models at the time, the ones I look up to most, were heroin addicts; I think subconsciously I thought that was cool.” After a stint in rehab in the 1980’s Etta was able to quit heroin, cocaine and alcohol.

Etta’s second “demon” was the continuing struggle with obesity. After having her weight balloon past 400 pounds, Etta decided on gastric bypass surgery which was suggested to her by Rosanne Barr. Because of the surgery, she lost 200 pounds.

Etta James is survived by Artis Mills, her husband of 42 years, two sons Donto and Sametto James and several grandchildren. There was an ongoing battle between her sons and her husband regarding her estate of about $1 million. By the time of her death, her sons had decided to allow her husband to remain as conservator.


Don Cornelius by Uani Palacio


Uani Palacio

Don Cornelius - click for source


Mr. Don Cortez Cornelius, most affectionately known among his fans and music lovers as Don Cornelius, was born on September 27th, 1936 in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago Illinois. After graduating high school in 1954, he joined the Unites States Marine Corps. Following his 18 months stint in the military, Don worked various jobs including becoming a police officer, a tire, automobile and insurance salesman.
One day in 1966, he decided to quit his job in order to pursue a career in broadcasting. By that time, Don and his first wife Delores Harrison were already proud parents on two sons, Anthony and Yukon. He enrolled in a broadcasting school and was able to land a job as a substitute DJ, filling in for other on-air personalities, he also became a news reporter on a Chicago radio station WVON.
In 1968, while hosting a television show “A Black Man’s View on the News” on WCIU, he met and became acquainted with the show’s owners. Being the natural and seasoned salesman that he was, he pitched to them this idea for a music television program. Using $400.00 of his own savings, he created the pilot for the show which was picked up and soon evolved into the nationally syndicated show we now know as the famous Soul Train hosted by its creator with the smooth and deep voice, Don Cornelius. He would always close out the show with his now famous line “I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!” The show featured teenagers dancing to the latest soul and R &B music and also featured famous artists including Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. Following a very lengthy and successful run, being seen in more than 105 cities, reaching an estimated 85 percent of black households, the show finally ended in 2007.
By that time, Don’s first marriage had dissolved and was then re-married to a Russian model Viktoria Avila-Cornelius. In 2008, Don was arrested and charged with spousal abuse for which he received 36 month probation. This then lead to the divorce of his second wife. His health also declined drastically up to the day of his tragic death in Sherman Oaks, California on February 1st 2012 at the age of 75. His death was ruled a suicide by the way of a gunshot wound to the head.
Don’s death was a sad day for his fans but his life was celebrated by impromptu Soul Train lines forming in various parts of the country. Don was also instrumental in offering wide exposure to black musicians and exposing them to a wider audience. Among his accomplishments, Don was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Don was survived by his (2) sons and his ex-wife Viktoria who is said to be the beneficiary of his (2) life insurance policies. Information about his estate is not yet available so there’s no confirmation of its value or of its distribution.
Lynn Elber, The Associated Press
Louise Boyde, Don Cornelius


0 Responses to “Student Work – Etta James and Don Cornelius”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: