From the mid-1950s to the present, Etta James' powerful, soul-charged voice has become deeper and rougher, with a rich texture and heartfelt inflections. It goes without saying that the woman known as "Mama" is aging like California wine, and she can still open wounds in her songs and come out standing strong. When she was five years old, Jamesetta Hawkins amazed the congregation of her church choir. When she belted out Gospel songs with absolute spiritual fervor, it was clear that the child was a musical prodigy. Her career as a singer began when she recorded "The Wallflower" with Johnny Otis in 1954 for Modern Records. A year later, the song topped the charts. In 1960, she moved to Chess Records and soon began cranking out hits such as the driving, jiving, southern soul smash "Tell Mama," which Janis Joplin covered later that decade. Since then, she has recorded for Island and Elektra, experimenting with rock and jazz, but always returning to her Gospel-soaked roots and southern soul.