Etta James Son Tells ‘Real’ Cause Of Mom’s Bad Behavior…And It Wasn’t Drugs

Posted On : June 10, 2021
Etta James and her son, Donto James

Etta James was known as the woman with the beautiful alto voice and the episodes of controversial moments throughout her life. She was only 5’3″ but she had a persona that was larger than life and she commanded every room she entered.
Her son, Donto James, has revealed that while the world thought Etta’s wild moments — like the time she publicly stated Beyonce [who portrayed Etta in “Cadillac Records’] needed her “a$$ whipped” for singing “At Last” at President Obama’s inauguration ball, instead of her; and Etta’s reputation of canceling shows at the last minute — were all due to drugs or alcohol, her son, Donto James, says that wasn’t the case.

According to Donto said, his late Mom’s prior erratic behavior was simply the result of her rebellious personality…and urinary tract infections. Yep, you just read that right, Donto said urinary tract infections helped to debilitate Etta physically and mentally, causing her to behave strangely at times.

Donto told the Daily Beast that “She (Etta) would do her job but sometimes it was a little rough.” During a performance on a Mexican cruise in 2005, he said, she “forgot her words, and when she got back to her room she was “hallucinating.”

8-30 etta james sons donto and sametto
Etta James’s sons, Donto and Sametto James

Then there were other times when Etta would cancel her shows only hours before she was scheduled to go on, leaving the concert promoters in a tight bind. According to The Daily Beast, Donto, who was also the drummer in her band, said his mother’s behavior ‘wasn’t a sign of early dementia [nor drugs] as some believed—it was just her personality, and her ability to hold a grudge.

“It was always resentment-based,” [Donto James] said. He said she turned down a gig playing at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremony on the morning of the concert because she felt she wasn’t getting paid enough. “She woke up in the morning and said, ‘I have a headache. I am not doing [the show].’ That was how she was. She did what she wanted to do. She would dwell on things. She didn’t want to be taken advantage of and she would get resentful of certain things and she would act on it.” “We would go up to play first, and we would always wonder if she was going to come out,” he said. “I would say, ‘Why do you do that?’ and she would say, ‘Just to mess with you.’”

That Etta James was something else! Now I’ve gotta admit that I was not not aware that urinary tract infections could make a person do some strange things…we learn something new around here everyday, I tell ya.’ Maybe I should have paid a lil’ bit more attention when my teachers were giving that lesson in our sex ed course. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that not all of the outlandish acts we’ve heard about our beloved Etta James were actually the result of substance abuse. She oftentimes got a bad wrap and because of her admitted history with drug addiction, folks were quick to jump to that conclusion about her.

Etta James with professional pool player, “Minnesota Fats,” the man she believed to be her biological father

On a side note, Donto looks so much like his Mom, it’s unreal. It’s like looking at Ettta all over again. Another person he looks like is the man whom Etta always believed was her real life father, the professional pool player, Rudolf Walter Wanderone a.k.a. “Minnesota Fats” (pictured below).

Etta also had a rocky relationship with her mother and never really knew who her father was for certain, but based on the physical resemblances, she could have been right about “Fats.”