Queen Esther (artist)

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Queen Esther
Queen Esther (Photo by Joe Ritter.)
Queen Esther at The Edison Ballroom, New York City -- September, 2011.
Occupation Actor, Songwriter, Musician, Vocalist, Producer, Performer, Playwright, Librettist
Language English
Ethnicity African-American
Citizenship USA
Education BA, The New School
Period 1996 - present
Notable awards Grand Prize, Jazzmobile Jazz Vocal Competition - 2008

Queen Esther is an American actor, performer, musician, singer and songwriter.[1]

A member of blues/free jazz/funk guitarist James Blood Ulmer's Black Rock Experience[2] and a jazz vocalist—with her collective The Hot Five as well as JC Hopkins Biggish Band—she was the 2008 Grand Prize winner of the Jazzmobile Jazz Vocal Competition,[3] and a 2013 regional finalist [4] and a 2014 finalist [5] and in the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest.

Early life[edit]

Steeped in the gospel music traditions of the Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C.) from a very early age while surrounded by a soundscape of freeform radio, countrypolitan music and show tunes, Queen Esther grew up in the Deep SouthAtlanta, GA and Charleston, SC respectively – as the middle child and the only daughter, with six brothers and a four-octave range. She began her gifted education in English and creative writing as a five-year-old.[6]

While attending Northside High School, a magnet school in the Performing Arts (now North Atlanta High School) in Atlanta GA, she studied opera and classical music, developed an appreciation of jazz, was featured in productions in the city (Leonard Bernstein's MASS with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra), attended the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program in Drama, and competed for and won several scholarships in theater through Arts Recognition and Talent Search (now YoungArts), sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Queen Esther chose to attend the University of Texas and performed frequently on the local cabaret and theater scene in Austin with theater director/performer Boyd Vance. She also performed on the live music scene with the band Moving Parts, opening for guitarist Larry Carlton,[7] the Neville Brothers and Crowded House, amongst others.[7] Queen Esther was also in Ro-Tel and the Hot Tomatoes, a regional favorite specializing in theatrically showcasing girl group music from the 50s and 60s.[8]

Although the group began as a gag with Boyd Vance as Tina Turner (backed by performers Shannon Sedwick, Linda Wetherbee and Jeannie Baxter as The Ikettes) in the comedy/theater troupe Esther’s Follies, they eventually reworked the group without Mr. Vance to include a five member band. They performed for such Texas luminaries as Robert Bass and his siblings the Bass Brothers as well as H. Ross Perot, and shared the stage with The Temptations, The Four Tops, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Chuck Berry, and many others.[9]


It was guitarist “Big Al” Gilhausen who introduced her to the legendary blues guitar icon Hubert Sumlin. Because of their strong influence, she lost herself in the blues and found her way back to her gospel/country roots.[8]

Queen Esther relocated to Harlem, joined the Black Rock Coalition, finished a BA from The New School in screenwriting and performed regularly in the alt-music/alt-theater scene. Her work as a vocalist, lyricist, songwriter, actor/solo performer and playwright/librettist led to creative collaborations in neo-vaudeville, alt-theater, various alt-rock configurations, (neo) swing bands, trip hop DJs, spoken word performances, jazz combos, jam bands, various blues configurations, original Off Broadway plays and musicals, experimental music/art noise and performance art.[10]

After forming the avant-blues duo Hoosegow with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp and releasing the critically acclaimed album Mighty (Homestead),[11] Queen Esther beat out more than 6,000 hopefuls to land the role of The Voice of Heaven in the original cast of the first national tour of the Broadway musical RENT.[12] While on tour, she started her own label (EL Recordings) and continued to develop her ideas, regardless of genre.


In 2002, Queen Esther received a Best Actress AUDELCO award nomination for her work in George C. Wolfe's new musical Harlem Song. A member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA, Queen Esther has toured in theatrical productions regionally, nationally and internationally, performing in workshops, festivals, cabarets, plays, musicals and Off-Broadway shows.[13]

In the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster, Queen Esther hosted and performed in The Tribeca Playhouse Stagedoor Canteen, a weekly hour-long USO-style variety show created and directed by playwright and theater director Jeff Cohen that welcomed performers to entertain the Ground Zero relief workers for free.[14] Produced by Jeff Cohen and Carol Fineman, the show was featured on NY1, The Today Show, CBS Morning News, The Metro Channel and Good Morning America, and in Variety and The New York Times. It featured such performers as BETTY, Saturday Night Live's Colin Quinn, stand up comedians Mario Cantone, Kim Cea and Godfrey, Cosby's Phylicia Rashad, Sandy Duncan, Joey McIntyre, Tony Award winners Cady Huffman, Kristin Chenoweth, Daisy Eagan, Broadway performers Annie Golden, Sara Ramirez, Lea DeLaria, Willy Falk, Jonathan Dokuchitz, Darius DeHaas, Aisha DeHaas and many others.[15][16] Subsequently, Tribeca Playhouse won an honorary 2002 Drama Desk Award.[17]


A vocalist, songwriter, lyricist and nascent guitarist, Queen Esther signed a publishing deal with Bug Music in 2004 [18] (now owned by BMG Rights Management)[19] and self-released her Black Americana blues/rock album Talkin' Fishbowl Blues. Of this effort, AllMusic says, "There's a decidedly Stonesy swagger to many of these tunes with just a touch of twang, and Queen Esther shows herself to be just as versatile a vocalist as Tina Turner, covering not only the lead vocals but nearly all the background vocals as well."[20] Most recently, writer Geoffrey Himes calls her self-produced and self-released 2014 effort The Other Side "the most exciting Afro-Americana release of the year," and goes on to say that "her songs are so sturdily constructed that her powerful delivery of Wanda Jackson’s “My Big Iron Skillet” and Charlie Rich’s “I Feel Like Going Home” sounds like more of the same." [21]

Harmelodic guitarist James Blood Ulmer and The Black Rock Experience at City Winery -- New York City, 2013 (from l. to r. Mark Peterson, Queen Esther, James Blood Ulmer, G. Calvin Weston)

Queen Esther is a member of jazz/free funk/blues guitarist James Blood Ulmer's Black Rock Experience [22] -- along with G. Calvin Weston (drums) and Mark Peterson (bass) -- and has toured Europe frequently with Mr. Ulmer's various projects,[23] including his seminal group Odyssey.[24]

JC Hopkins and Queen Esther at Minton's Harlem -- New York City, 2014

In 2014, JC Hopkins Biggish Band -- featuring Queen Esther and award-winning[25] jazz vocalist Charles Turner[26] -- began its Wednesday night residency at the legendary Harlem jazz venue formerly known as Minton's Playhouse (now called "Minton's Harlem").[27] Jazz critic Will Friedwald opines, "The combination of pianist-bandleader JC Hopkins and vocalist Queen Esther expertly recapture the vitality and energy of Harlem jazz and blues of 70 years ago without slavishly imitating anyone and are thus a perfect fit, and they should help the relaunched room attract the attention of dancers as well as diners.”[28]

Queen Esther performs regularly with her quintet The Hot Five, a collective of jazz musicians that play intimate reconfigurations of rare all-American standards as well as original material.[29] Performances include The Kennedy Center,[30] New Year's Eve Eve, an annual event produced by The Salon,[31][32] and the bi-annual Jazz Age Lawn Party,[33] presented by Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra.[34]


Solo Work[edit]

  • The Other Side (EL Recordings, 2014) with Charles Burnham, Jon Diaz, Ronny Drayton, Bruce Edwards, G. Earl Grice, Bob Hoffnar, Jon Loyd, Raphael McGregor, Marvin Sewell, Naisha Walton, Ralph White
  • Talkin' Fishbowl Blues (EL Recordings, 2004) with Jack Sprat, David Patillo, Booker King, Andy Sanesi, Glenn Reynolds, Clayton Craddock, Marvin Sewell, Sebastian Steinberg, Ron Sunshine, Robert Warren, Sylvia MacCalla, Craig Dreyer, Josh Roy Brown




Experimental/Avant Garde[edit]


While in college and initially in New York City, Queen Esther worked as a freelance writer and essayist, most notably for The Griot, New York Press and Cafe Los Negroes.


It was after seeing John Leguizamo’s Mambo Mouth at the American Place Theater that Queen Esther wrote, developed and performed The "Moxie" Show, a one person performance art piece that was subsequently featured at Dixon Place, Performance Space 122 and The Samuel Beckett Theater.[35]

Queen Esther wrote, developed and performed her second one person show, the semi-autobiographical Queen Esther: Unemployed Superstar, at Tribeca Playhouse, The New York International Fringe Festival,[36] The Diva Series at George Street Playhouse[37] and the New Work Now! New Performance Now! series at The Public Theater, culminating in a five-week sold-out run at Joe's Pub.[38] Queen Esther began work on The Big Payback, a socio-political romp about reparations, which she continues to develop.


Adapted from newly discovered Harlem-based short stories by Zora Neale Hurston and augmented by Billie Holiday's rare sides – both from the 1930s – Queen Esther wrote the libretto for The Billie Holiday Project, performing it initially at Lenox Lounge for the Harlem Jazz Shrines[39] and developing it further in performance workshops with Dixon Place and The Field.[40] Featuring The Hot Five with a cast that included Francesca Harper, Charles L. Wallace and Keith L. Thomas, the show was performed at The Apollo Theater's Apollo Music Cafe in April, 2012.[41]

Queen Esther partnered with The Francesca Harper Project to further explore Billie Holiday's body of work through movement, sound and vision in Billie Holiday: Deconstructed, a theatrical performance that premiered at the Harlem Arts Festival in June, 2012.[42]


  1. ^ "The Curmudgeon: Afro-Americana: Putting the Twang Back into Black Music". pastemagazine.com. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Preview: James "Blood" Ulmer's Black Rock Experience A jazz, blues and rock guitar master brings his Muse to town". praguepost.cz. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  3. ^ All About Jazz (2008-06-22). "Jazzmobile Vocal Competition 2008; Queen Esther Takes the Night!". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  4. ^ NewSong Music (2014-07-30). "NewSong 2013 Regional Finalist Announcements". NewSong-Music.com. 
  5. ^ NewSong Music (2014-07-30). "New York’s Queen Esther & Canada’s Dennis Ellsworth Win 2014 ‘Early Bird’ Contest Finalist Spots". NewSong-Music.com. 
  6. ^ "Queen Esther interview (February 2005)". Earcandymag.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  7. ^ a b http://www.stonecityattractions.com/rockplanet/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=72
  8. ^ a b Westergaard, Sean. "Queen Esther - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  9. ^ Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes. "Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes". Box Talent. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  10. ^ Un. "Queen Esther | Gratis muziek, tourneedata, foto's, video's". Myspace.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  11. ^ Milkowski, Bill. "Jazz Albums: MightyElliot Sharp and Queen Esther - By Bill Milkowski — Jazz Articles". Jazztimes.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  12. ^ "Angel Tour History". Angelfire.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  13. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1125834/resume
  14. ^ TV.com (2002-02-10). "The It Factor - Season 1, Episode 12: New York City: Episode 12". TV.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  15. ^ Collins, Glenn (2001-11-14). "PUBLIC LIVES - PUBLIC LIVES - It's On With the Show, for Those Who Need It - Biography". New York City: NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  16. ^ "Star-Studded 'Canteen' Entertains, Benefits Rescue Workers at TriBeCa Playhouse". Playbill.com. 2001-10-29. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  17. ^ "Tribeca Playhouse Stage-Door Canteen Tickets, News and Information | Tribeca Playhouse, off-off-broadway, NY". Theatermania.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  18. ^ "Writers & Artists | BMG Chrysalis US". Bmgchrysalis.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  19. ^ "BMG Rights Management to Purchase Bug Music". Billboard.com. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "Talkin' Fishbowl Blues". Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "The Curmudgeon: Afro-Americana: Putting the Twang Back into Black Music". pastemagazine.com. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  22. ^ http://www.praguepost.com/night-and-day/stage/15305-preview-james-blood-ulmers-black-rock-experience.html
  23. ^ http://1queenesther.livejournal.com/2013/03/21/
  24. ^ http://crownpropeller.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/james-blood-ulmer-in-zurich-2013/
  25. ^ "Turner Prize for Young Singer on the Rise". jazzfm.com. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  26. ^ "This Wednesday at Minton's Harlem". Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  27. ^ "Broadway Star's Nightclub Debut - WSJ.com". online.wsj.com. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  28. ^ "NY Culture: Broadway Star's Nightclub Debut Megan Hilty Plays Café Carlyle and More in This Week's Jazz Scene". wsj.com. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  29. ^ "Queen Esther & The Hot Five | New York, NY | Jazz / Hard bop / Swing | Music, Lyrics, Songs, and Videos". ReverbNation. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  30. ^ "Queen Esther / Watch Past Performances". The Kennedy Center. 
  31. ^ Friedwald, Will (2011-12-30). "The Jazz Scene: Rolling With the Rhythms - WSJ.com". Online.wsj.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  32. ^ "THE SALON - Upcoming Events / Past Events". Thesalon.biz. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  33. ^ "Where The Flappers Are Flocking". The Wall Street Journal. 
  34. ^ http://queen-esther.com/queen-esther-performs-jazz-age-lawn-party-2013/
  35. ^ Mahon, Maureen (June 4, 2004). Right to Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race. Duke University Press. p. 260. ISBN 0822386135. 
  36. ^ PETER MARKS Published: August 27, 1998 (1998-08-27). "THEATER REVIEW; Sometimes Delightful, Never Easy: It's Fringe - New York Times". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  37. ^ "Hadary and Bishop to Read Paper Doll at George Street, April 30-May 2". Playbill.com. 1999-04-27. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  38. ^ STEPHEN HOLDEN Published: August 29, 2000 (2000-08-29). "CABARET REVIEW; A Woman of Many Faces, Not to Mention Outfits and Wigs - New York Times". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  39. ^ "Calendar - BLAZING TONGUES: Part 1". Harlem Stage. 2011-05-10. Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  40. ^ http://newyork.localtiger.com/new-york-city/new-york-events/concerts---live-music/queen-esther-the-hot-five-120772.html
  41. ^ http://www.apollotheater.org/2012-apollo-artists/588-queen-esther
  42. ^ http://www.harlemartsfestival.com/2012-festival/queen-esther

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