- Raised by Lula Rogers, her mother's former landlady, for 12 years.
- Began performing on Los Angeles radio gospel-music broadcasts at age 5.
- Was discovered by blues icon Johnny Otis when she was 16. He changed her name to Etta James (an inversion of her first name), changed the name of her singing group from the Creolettes to the Peaches (her nickname) and took them out on tour with his band.
- Had her first hit at age 17 with "Roll With Me Henry" in 1955, retitled "The Wallflower" because the original title was considered too risqué for radio.
- Lived in Chicago's inexpensive Sutherland Hotel in the early 1960s with other budding stars, including Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield.
- Appeared in the films Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), B.B. King and Friends - A Night of Red Hot Blues (1981) and Chuck Berry Hail! Hail Rock 'n' Roll (1987).
- Sang at the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics.
- Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
- Cowrote her autobiography, Rage to Live, in 1995 with David Ritz.
- Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.
- Was portrayed by Beyoncé Knowles in the film Cadillac Records(2008); Knowles later went on to perform James' signature ballad "At Last" at Barack Obama's 2009 Inaugural Ball.
- Sons Sametto and Donto played in her band during her 2009 tour.