The Rev. Al Sharpton eulogized James in a rousing speech, describing her remarkable rise from poverty and pain to become a woman whose music became an enduring anthem. He opened his remarks by reading a statement from President Barack Obama.
"Etta will be remembered for her legendary voice and her contributions to our nation's musical heritage," Obama's statement read.
Christina Aguilera and Stevie Wonder performed at the funeral service, which was held at City of Refuge Church in Gardena.
James was most famous for her rendition of "At Last." She won four Grammy awards, including a lifetime achievement honor, but it's her heart that loved ones will remember most.
"One thing about my mother is that she would pick up anybody to work for her," said son Donto James. "You know most of the young men that had lost their mothers or their families, you know they'd come by, they'd be friends of my brother's or mine, and she'd give them a job, just like that."
The Grammy-winning singer died Jan. 20 after battling leukemia and other ailments, including dementia. She was 73.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.