Born Jamesetta Hawkins In Los Angeles, California in 1936, she was a child gospel prodigy. She was singing in her Los Angeles Baptist church choir (and over the radio) when she was only five years old under the tutelage of Professor James Earle Hines. She moved to San Francisco to live with relatives in 1950. At the age of fifteen she met two sisters from New Orleans Jean and Abysinia Mitchell and formed a group the Creolettes. They began singing at at the recreation center at Army and Third Streets in the San Francisco's housing projects.
The Creolettes began playing the record hops around town. At one they met Hank Ballard and the Midnighters who then had an R&B hit "Work With Me Annie" on the charts. With a bit of encouragement from the Midnighters, James wrote an answer song called "Roll With Me Henry."
Though Jamesetta and Jean were minors, Abysinia was twenty-three and attended the area clubs and ballrooms. It was while at the Primaline Ballroom that she met Johnny Otis. This led to an audition in Otis' Room at the Manor Plaza Hotel. Against her mother's wishes, the young singer embarked for L.A. to record. On Thanksgiving Eve 1954, with the Otis band and vocalist Richard Berry the Creolettes recorded "Roll with Me Henry" for Modern Records. By Thanksgiving night Otis was playing it from his record store. Otis inverted her first name to devise her stage handle and dubbed her vocal group the Peaches (also Etta's nickname).
To appease the radio censures "Roll With Me Henry" was re-named "The Wallflower." It spent four weeks at #1 on Billboards R&B charts and was nearly as popular as "Work With Me Annie" the song which it answered.
James continued to record with Modern, but latter split with Otis over personal and financial issues.Later Peaches would disappear too. James and Berry would later record "Hey Henry" with backing vocal by Gloria Jones (The Dreamers which later became the Blossoms) and Alma Jones and Arcelle Anderson. Though the record bombed the group would later back James on her third release "Good Rocking" Daddy" which reached #6 on the R&B charts.
James later went on to have a sucessful solo career recording on Chess Records.