Etta James Is Not Long For This World

Etta James, in her second wind, at the Ebony Showcase Theatre in Los Angeles, on April 15, 1987.  The line-up also included the late Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gladys Knight.  See You Tube for the rest of the concert.  “Blind” was said to be a song that James wrote herself.

There are conflicting reports that Etta James, 73, blues  and R&B goddess extraordinaire, has passed on or is on the verge of passing on from the effects of chronic leukemia among other maladies, as it was reported two days ago.   It is not altogether clear what is happening.   The reason for the conflict may be the fact that her family–her second husband Artis Mills and her grown sons Donto and Sametto James–have been fighting with each other over her ongoing care and her money, a situation that has been going on for several years.   The sons even dispute the medical diagnosis offered by her Beverly Hills physician, Dr. Elaine James.  This is an article from January regarding the burgeoning controversy.

From left to right, Donto, Etta and Sametto James at a ceremony several years ago (Courtesy: Fan Daily)

The rift began last November when Mills, James’ husband of 41 years and tour manager, filed a petition to gain access to three of the singer’s bank accounts, estimated to total around $1 million. He said he needed to pay for her business affairs and mounting medical bills. Mills says he spends around $30,000 a month for private medical care, which includes two full-time nurses and a round-the-clock doctor.

The following month, James’ son Donto, a drummer in his mother’s band, filed legal papers asking the court to grant him conservatorship of his mother’s estate. He also asked that the court appoint an independent administrator to handle her finances. There has been no mention of a living will.

Donto, who is Mills’ stepson, also questioned whether his mother is getting proper care by her $20,000-a-month live-in doctor, Dr. Elaine James.

“There are a lot of allegations flying everywhere,” said [James’ court-appointed attorney Dennis] Sandoval.


During the hearing, [Judge Thomas H.] Cahraman also noted that a confidential investigator’s report about the singer that was released the same day as the hearing “does raise significant questions” about whether James is receiving proper medical treatment.

Donto James’ lawyer didn’t spare so many words. He said that report was an account of bad medical care.

“It is a very difficult situation,” said Joseph Deering, the lawyer, to The Daily Beast. “Pretty bizarre things are happening in my view and we want this sorted out for the protection of [Donto’s] mother.

No doubt, the sons fear that there will be no more money to inherit or to truly care for their mother.  The estate is said to be worth $1 million dollars, coming chiefly from royalties from the purchase of Etta’s CDs.  Donto claims that those revenues have diminished since his mother stopped performing.  (If true, that situation may cease when Etta dies; people like Etta (and Michael Jackson) seem worth more dead than alive.)  In 2008, Etta gave Donto James (and his wife and his brother) power of attorney over her estate in case she became incapacitated, a state of affairs that Artis Mills is contesting because Etta’s mental capacity became increasingly erratic during this time.

Tour manager and husband Artis Mills and his wife Etta James in happier times celebrating her star being added to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood (Courtesy: Fan Daily)

Additionally, according to court documents, Donto believes that her mother should not be at home in Riverside, California, but in a hospital.  The James sons suspect that their mother, who was on the verge of, but never divorced Mills, is being taken advantage of.  It isn’t clear whether Mills, who may be about the same age as his wife, is also living in the home, but the costs of Etta’s maintenance also include a household staff, materials and equipment, groceries and other upkeep bills running to the thousands of dollars monthly.

About Artis Mills: the man once spent 10 years in jail for heroin possession in the early Seventies.  Some reports suggest that Mills took the fall for Etta to save her from going to prison when both were busted.  After he was released, he and his wife gradually reunited, but there was a report that when Etta relapsed once more into addiction in the 1990s (as she often did during her lifetime), she had another enabler, fellow addict and lover until she hit bottom and sought treatment.  In other words, this looks like a marriage that seemed more off than on.

Over the decades Etta has battled not only heroin addiction but addiction to painkillers and overeating and morbid obesity, a condition that was ameliorated somewhat by lap-band surgery ten years ago when she lost 200 lbs.

No matter what happens, whether Etta has one hour or one month to go in this saha world, she has a right, like any human being, to be taken care of competently and well, as her life draws near to closure, and to be at peace, whether at her home or in a hospice.  The woman has been half out of the world for quite a while already.  Donto, though, believes that the confusion she suffers was caused by her dependence on painkillers and that she has short periods of lucidity.   Dr. James (no relation), seems to confirm that.  She has indicated that the singer can communicate very simply with uh-huhs and nos, but only a shell of what was this little woman with the powerful voice is left.

It is a damn shame that before you even step off into the Universe, your family fights over your remains and your legacy in public like feral dogs tearing apart a piece of meat.  But Etta is not alone in this; even James Brown wasn’t buried for almost four months because of family fights.  Pray for her to have a gentle transition and a respectworthy burial.

~ by blksista on December 18, 2011.

One Response to “Etta James Is Not Long For This World”

  1. Love this blog…love the design as well, I am envious, you have a beautiful, clean and happening design, and I am adding BlackSista’sPage to TheObamaCrat’s blog roll. Thank you.


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