- - Sunday, January 22, 2012

Etta James‘ performance of the enduring classic “At Last” was the embodiment of refined soul: Angelic-sounding strings harkened the arrival of her passionate yet measured vocals as she sang tenderly about a love finally realized after a long and patient wait.

In real life, little about James was as genteel as that song. The platinum blonde’s first hit was a saucy R&B number about sex, and she was known as a hell-raiser who had tempestuous relationships with her family, her men and the music industry. Then she spent years battling a drug addiction that she acknowledged sapped away at her great talents.

The 73-year-old died Friday at Riverside Community Hospital in Los Angeles from complications of leukemia, with her husband and sons at her side, her manager, Lupe De Leon said.

“It’s a tremendous loss for her fans around the world,” he said. “She’ll be missed. A great American singer. Her music defied category.”

James‘ spirit could not be contained — perhaps that’s what made her so magnetic in music; it is surely what made her so dynamic as one of R&B, blues and rock ‘n’ roll’s underrated legends.

“The bad girls … had the look that I liked,” she wrote in her 1995 autobiography, “Rage to Survive.” “I wanted to be rare, I wanted to be noticed, I wanted to be exotic as a Cotton Club chorus girl, and I wanted to be obvious as the most flamboyant hooker on the street. I just wanted to be.”

Despite the reputation she cultivated, she would always be remembered best for “At Last.” The jazz-inflected rendition wasn’t the original, but it would become the most famous and the song that would define her as a legendary singer. Over the decades, brides used it as their song down the aisle and car companies to hawk their wares, and it filtered from one generation to the next through its inclusion in movies such as “American Pie.” Perhaps most famously, President Obama and the first lady danced to a version at his inauguration ball.

Italian filmmaker Moretti to lead Cannes jury

Organizers of the Cannes film festival have chosen satirical Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti to head the jury at this year’s festival, Agence France-Presse reports.

The veteran actor and director of 2001 Palme d’Or winner “The Son’s Room” will head the jury for the May 16-27 festival on the French Riviera.

Festival organizers said Friday that Mr. Moretti’s films “are the incarnation of all the best in cinema over the past 30 years.”

Mr. Moretti, 58, directed and acted in last year’s Palme contender “Habemus Papam” — Latin for “We Have a Pope” — a surprisingly gentle comedy about a cardinal who suffers stage fright when he is chosen as the next pontiff.

Trial scheduled for man charged in Hudson slayings

A judge Thursday ordered a man charged in the 2008 Chicago slayings of Jennifer Hudson’s mother and two other family members to stand trial in April, despite the objections of his attorney, who said she was not ready to proceed.

After listening to William Balfour’s attorney say she’s still building her case, a clearly exasperated Cook County Judge William Charles Burns said it didn’t appear she was making any progress and set a date.

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