Irma Thomas at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 2006
|Birth name||Irma Lee|
|Also known as||Soul Queen of New Orleans|
February 18, 1941 |
Ponchatoula, Louisiana, United States
|Genres||R&B, soul, blues, gospel, pop|
Thomas is a contemporary of Aretha Franklin and Etta James, but never experienced their level of commercial success. In 2007, she won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for After the Rain, her first Grammy in a career spanning over 50 years.
Life and career
Born Irma Lee, as a teenager she sang with a Baptist church choir. She auditioned for Specialty Records at the age of 13. By the time she was 19, she had been married twice and had four children. Keeping her second ex-husband's surname, she worked as a waitress in New Orleans, occasionally singing with bandleader Tommy Ridgley, who helped her land a record deal with the local Ron label. Her first single, "Don't Mess with My Man," was released in late 1959, and reached number 22 on the US Billboard R&B chart.
She then began recording on the Minit label, working with songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint on songs including "It's Raining" and "Ruler of My Heart", which was later reinterpreted by Otis Redding as "Pain in My Heart". Imperial Records acquired Minit in 1963, and a string of successful releases followed. These included "Wish Someone Would Care", her biggest national hit; its B-side "Breakaway", written by Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheely (later covered by Tracey Ullman, among others); "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)", co-written by a young Randy Newman and future country star Jeannie Seely; and its B-side, "Time Is on My Side", a song previously recorded by Kai Winding and later by the Rolling Stones.
Her first four Imperial singles all charted on Billboard's pop chart, but her later releases were less successful. Unlike her contemporaries Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick, she never managed to cross over into mainstream commercial success. She recorded for Chess Records in 1967–68 with some success; her version of the Otis Redding song "Good to Me" reached the R&B chart. She then relocated to California, releasing records on various small labels, before returning to Louisiana, and in the early 1980s opened the Lion's Den Club. Thomas and her husband still own the Lion's Den Club near the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Down By Law, the 1986 independent film by Jim Jarmusch featured "It's Raining" in the soundtrack. The film's actors Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi, whose characters fell in love in the movie, danced to the song.
After several years' break from recording, she was signed by Rounder Records, and in 1991 earned her first Grammy Award nomination for Live! Simply the Best, recorded in San Francisco. She subsequently released a number of traditional gospel albums, together with more secular recordings. The album Sing It! (1998) was nominated for a Grammy in 1999.
Thomas is still active as a performer, appearing annually at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. She reigned as Queen of the Krewe du Vieux for the 1998 New Orleans Mardi Gras season. She often headlined at her own club, but it went out of business due to Hurricane Katrina, which caused her to relocate to Gonzales, Louisiana, 60 miles (97 km) from New Orleans. According to her website she is now back in her home in New Orleans.
In April 2007, Thomas was honored for her contributions to Louisiana music with induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Also in 2007, Thomas accepted an invitation to participate in Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino where, singing with Marcia Ball, she contributed "I Just Can't Get New Orleans Off My Mind". The same year she won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for After the Rain.
In August 2009, a compilation album with three new songs titled The Soul Queen of New Orleans: 50th Anniversary Celebration was released from Rounder Records to commemorate Thomas' 50th year as a recording artist.
Thomas was the subject of the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival poster. She was chosen as the subject before the painting was chosen for the poster. Artist Douglas Bourgeois painted the singer in 2006. In 2010, Thomas rode in the New Orleans parade "Grela". In April that year, Thomas performed at the Corner Hotel, Richmond, Victoria, Australia.
In 2011, Thomas performed twice at the Bluesfest music festival in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia. On April 24, she performed on the Crossroads stage, coming on after Mavis Staples; then on April 25, she headlined the Crossroads stage, coming on after Jethro Tull and Osibisa.
Charlie Brooker's anthology series, Black Mirror, has repeatedly featured Thomas' song "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)." Appearances include in the second episode, entitled "Fifteen Million Merits," in a karaoke segment in the seventh episode, "White Christmas," and again in the third series episode "Men Against Fire."
Artists worked with
- Tommy Ridgley
- Eddie Bo
- Edgar Blanchard
- Bill Sinigal
- Irving Banister
- Patsy Vidalia
- Marcia Ball
- Dr. John
- Allen Toussaint
- Skip Easterling
- Etta James
- Mahalia Jackson
- Pearl Bailey
- Nancy Wilson
- Brook Benton
- John Lee Hooker
- Percy Mayfield
|Year||A-side||B-side||Record label and catalog reference||US chart statistics|
|1959||"Don't Mess with My Man"||"Set Me Free"||Ron Records 328||No. 22 – R&B|
|1959||"A Good Man"||"I May Be Wrong"||Ron Records 330|
|1961||"Girl Needs Boy"||"Cry On"||Minit Records 625|
|1961||"It's Too Soon to Know"||"That's All I Ask"||Minit Records 633|
|1962||"Gone"||"I Done Got Over It"||Minit Records 642|
|1962||"It's Raining"||"I Did My Part"||Minit Records 653|
|1962||"Two Winters Long"||"Somebody Told Me"||Minit Records 660|
|1963||"Ruler of My Heart"||"Hittin' on Nothing"||Minit Records 666|
|1963||"For Goodness Sake"||"Whenever (Look Up)"||Bandy Records 368|
|1963||"Foolish Girl"||"When I Met You"||Bumba Records 711|
|1964||"Wish Someone Would Care"||"Breakaway"||Imperial Records 66013||No. 17 – Pop|
|1964||"Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)"||"Time Is on My Side"||Imperial Records 66041||No. 52 – Pop|
|1964||"Times Have Changed"||"Moments to Remember"||Imperial Records 66069||No. 98 – Pop|
|1964||"He's My Guy"||"(I Want A) True, True Love"||Imperial Records 66080||No. 63 – Pop|
|1965||"Some Things You Never Get Used To"||"You Don't Miss a Good Thing"||Imperial Records 66095|
|1965||"I'm Gonna Cry Till My Tears Run Dry"||"Nobody Wants to Hear Nobody's Troubles"||Imperial Records 66106|
|1965||"It's Starting to Get to Me Now"||"Hurt's All Gone"||Imperial Records 66120|
|1965||"Take a Look"||"What Are You Trying to Do"||Imperial Records 66137|
|1966||"It's a Man's-Woman's World (part 1)"||"It's a Man's-Woman's World (part 2)"||Imperial Records 66178|
|1967||"Somewhere Crying"||"Cheater Man"||Chess Records 2010|
|1967||"A Woman Will Do Wrong"||"I Gave You Everything"||Chess Records 2017|
|1968||"Good to Me"||"We Got Something Good"||Chess Records 2036||No. 42 – R&B|
|1970||"Save a Little Bit For Me"||"That's How I Feel About You"||Canyon Records 21|
|1971||"I'd Do It All Over You"||"We Won't Be in Your Way Anymore"||Canyon Records 31|
|1972||"Full Time Woman"||"She's Taking My Part"||Cotillion Records 41444|
|1973||"She'll Never Be Your Wife"||"You're the Dog"||Fungus Records 15119|
|1973||"In Between Tears (part 1)"||"In Between Tears (part 2)"||Fungus Records 15141|
|1974||"Coming from Behind (part 1)"||"Coming from Behind (part 2)"||Fungus Records 15353|
|1977||"Don't Blame Him"||"Breakaway"||Maison de Soul 1012|
|1978||"Hip Shakin' Mama"||"Hittin' on Nothin'"||Maison de Soul 1058|
|1979||"Safe With Me"||"Zero Willpower"||RCS Records 1006|
|1980||"Take What You Find"||"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"||RCS Records 1008|
|1980||"A Woman Left Lonely"||"Dance Me Down Easy"||RCS Records 1010|
|1981||"Looking Back"||"Don't Stop"||RCS Records 1013|
|1988||"Mardi Gras Manbo"||"I Believe Saints Go All the Way"||Sound of New Orleans 10311|
|1964||Wish Someone Would Care||Imperial Records|
|1966||Take a Look||Imperial Records|
|1973||In Between Tears||Fungus Records|
|1977||Irma Thomas Live - New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival||Island Records|
|1978||Soul Queen of New Orleans||Maison de Soul|
|1979||Safe with Me||RCS Records|
|1981||In Between Tears||Charly Records||Reissue of Fungus LP|
|1981||Hip Shakin' Mama||Charly Records||Reissue of Island LP|
|1984||Down at Muscle Shoals||Chess Records/P-Vine Records||Recordings from 1967/68 for Chess|
|1986||The New Rules||Rounder Records|
|1988||The Way I Feel||Rounder Records|
|1991||Live: Simply the Best||Rounder Records|
|1992||True Believer||Rounder Records|
|1993||Walk Around Heaven: New Orleans Gospel Soul||Rounder Records|
|1993||Turn My World Around||Shanachie Records|
|1997||The Story of My Life||Rounder Records|
|1998||Sing It!||Rounder Records||with Marcia Ball & Tracy Nelson|
|2000||My Heart's in Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn||Rounder Records|
|2006||After the Rain||Rounder Records|
|2008||Simply Grand||Rounder Records/Decca Records|
|2014||Full Time Woman - The Lost Cotillion Album||RGM Records/Rhino Records||Recordings from 1971/72 for Atlantic/Cotillion|
|1979||Irma Thomas Sings||Bandy Records||Bandy/Minit recordings|
|1983||Time Is on My Side||Kent Records||Minit/Imperial recordings|
|1986||Break-A-Way: The Best of Irma Thomas||Legendary Masters Series (EMI-USA)|
|1987||BreakaWay||Stateside Records||Minit/Imperial recordings|
|1990||Something Good: The Muscle Shoals Sessions||MCA Records/Chess Records||Chess recordings|
|1991||Safe with Me/Irma Thomas Live||Paula Records|
|1992||Time Is on My Side: The Best of Irma Thomas Volume 1||EMI-USA||Minit/Imperial recordings|
|1996||Ruler of Hearts||Charly Records||Minit/Bandy/Island recordings|
|1996||Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans: The Irma Thomas Collection||Razor & Tie||Minit/Imperial recordings|
|1996||Time Is on My Side||Kent Records||Expanded version of 1983 LP|
|2001||If You Want It, Come and Get It||Rounder Records|
|2005||Straight from the Soul||Stateside Records||Minit/Imperial recordings|
|2006||A Woman's Viewpoint||Ace Records||Fungus/Canyon/RCS recordings|
|2006||Wish Someone Would Care/Take a Look||Collectables Records||Imperial recordings|
|2009||The Soul Queen of New Orleans: 50th Anniversary Celebration||Rounder Records||Three previously unreleased, out of fifteen tracks|
|1993||Blues Summit||B.B. King||MCA Records||Duet on "We're Gonna Make It"|
|2005||I Believe to My Soul||Various artists||Rhino Records||Singing "Loving Arms"|
|2005||Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast||Various artists||Elektra Records/Nonesuch Records||Singing "Back Water Blues"|
|2006||Sing Me Back Home||The New Orleans Social Club||Burgundy Records/Honey Darling Records||Duet with Marcia Ball on "Look Up"|
|2007||Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino||Various artists||Vanguard Records||Duet with Marcia Ball on "I Can't Get New Orleans Off My Mind"|
|2010||Ya-Ka-May||Galactica||Anti-||Vocals on "Heart of Steel"|
|2011||Let Them Talk||Hugh Laurie||Warner Bros. Records||Vocals on "John Henry" and "Baby, Please Make a Change"|
|1978||Always for Pleasure|
|2006||New Orleans Music in Exile|
- "I Hear You Knockin' ", Jeff Hannusch, 1985 "I was born in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, February 18, 1941
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- Elijah Wald; John Junkerman (1999). River of a Song. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 300–307.
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- "I Believe to My Soul - Various Artists - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
- "Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast - Various Artists - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
- "Sing Me Back Home - The New Orleans Social Club - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
- "Ya-Ka-May - Galactic - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
- "Let Them Talk - Hugh Laurie - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
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