Soulful. Scorching. Raw. All words that have been used to describe blues legend Etta James, whom GFM is proud to honor as our first Artist of the Month for 2012.

In a career that spanned nearly 60 years from her first single in 1955 to her retirement and the release of her final album in 2011, James recorded more than 30 albums, won dozens of awards, and earned recognition as one of the greatest interpreters of American song.

In the blink of an eye, her voice could go from the sweetest lover’s whisper to a burning gospel shout, snagging every emotion needed along the way and never, ever failing to surprise. She sang with gut-scraping soul, with furious immediacy, with undying love, and–more than anything else–with truth. Etta never gave less than everything to her audience and her art. From the very beginning, for most of her existence she lived a diamond-hard life riddled with hardship and tragedy, and as every truly great artist does, she used every experience to deepen and enrich the feeling she brought to her work. When Etta howls out in pain, you feel that stab in your heart, because you know she’s felt it too. She lived every song she sang, and to share that–to give that–to the world, and in such great volume, is something to be respected and admired.

The last two years have seen a drastic decline in her health, and the final days of 2011 left fans around the world gravely concerned as headlines detailed her condition. As of this writing, Etta is thankfully still with us, and throughout the month of January, GFM will hit some of the highlights, sorrows, and hidden gems of her life and the tremendous legacy of her career. Follow us on Facebook to catch all the best.