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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
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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, "(You Can Have My Husband but) Don't Mess with My Man," was released in late 1959, and reached number 22 on the 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, among others; and "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 her own club, the Lion's Den.
Down By Law, the 1986 independent film by Jim Jarmusch features "It's Raining" in the soundtrack. The film's actors Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi, whose characters fall in love in the movie, dance to this 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! was nominated for a Grammy in 1999.
Thomas is still active as a performer, appearing annually at the New Orleans Jazz and 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.
Thomas and her husband owned the Lion's Den Club near the French Quarter of 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".
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 and 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.
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.
In December 2011, Thomas' track "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)" was featured in Charlie Brooker's anthology series Black Mirror, in the second episode, entitled "Fifteen Million Merits". The song was also featured in a karaoke segment in the seventh episode, "White Christmas", in December 2014, and again in the third series episode Men Against Fire in 2016.
Artists worked with
- Tommy Ridgley
- Eddie Bo
- Edgar Blanchard
- Bill Sinigal
- Irving Banister
- Patsy Valdalia
- Marcia Ball
- Dr. John
- Allen Toussaint
- Skip Easterling
- Etta James
- Mahalia Jackson
- Pearl Bailey
- Nancy Wilson
- Brook Benton
- John Lee Hooker
- Percy Mayfield
- "(You Can Have My Husband But) Don't Mess with My Man" / "Set Me Free" (Ron 328) (#22 R&B, 1960)
- "A Good Man" / "I May Be Wrong" (Ron 330) (1960)
- "Girl Needs Boy" / "Cry On" (Minit 625) (1961)
- "It's Too Soon To Know" / "That's All I Ask" (Minit 633) (1961)
- "Gone" / "I Done Got Over It" (Minit 642) (1962)
- "It's Raining" / "I Did My Part" (Minit 653) (1962)
- "Two Winters Long" / "Somebody Told You" (Minit 660) (1962)
- "Ruler of My Heart" / "Hittin' on Nothing" (Minit 666) (1963)
- "For Goodness Sake" / "Whenever (Look Up)" (Bandy 368) (1963)
- "Foolish Girl" / "When I Met You" (Bumba 711) (1963)
- "Wish Someone Would Care" / "Break-a-Way" (Imperial 66013) (#17 pop, 1964)
- "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)" / "Time Is on My Side" (Imperial 66041) (#52 pop, 1964)
- "Times Have Changed" / "Moments to Remember" (Imperial 66069) (#98 pop, 1964)
- "He's My Guy" / "(I Want A) True, True Love" (Imperial 66080) (#63 pop, 1964)
- "Some Things You Never Get Used To" / "You Don't Miss a Good Thing" (Imperial 66095) (#109 pop, 1965)
- "I'm Gonna Cry Till My Tears Run Dry" / "Nobody Wants to Hear Nobody's Troubles" (Imperial 66106) (#130 pop, 1965)
- "It's Starting to Get to Me Now" / "Hurt's All Gone" (Imperial 66120) (1965)
- "Take a Look" / "What Are You Trying to Do" (Imperial 66137) (#118 pop, 1965)
- "It's a Man's-Woman's World (parts 1 and 2)" (Imperial 66178) (#119 pop, 1966)
- "Somewhere Crying" / "Cheater Man" (Chess 2010) (1967)
- "A Woman Will Do Wrong" / "I Gave You Everything" (Chess 2017) (1967)
- "Good to Me" / "We Got Something Good" (Chess 2036) (#42 R&B, 1968)
- "Save a Little Bit For Me" / "That's How I Feel About You" (Canyon 21) (1970)
- "I'd Do It All Over You" / "We Won't Be in Your Way Anymore" (Canyon 31) (1971)
- "Full Time Woman" / "She's Taking My Part" (Cotillion 41444) (1972)
- "These Four Walls" / "A Woman's Viewpoint" (Roker 502) (1973)
- "She'll Never Be Your Wife" / "You're the Dog" (Fungus 15119) (1973)
- "In Between Tears (parts 1 and 2)" (Fungus 15141) (1973)
- "Coming from Behind (parts 1 and 2)" (Fungus 15353) (1974)
- "Don't Blame Him" / "Breakaway" (Maison de Soul 1012) (1977)
- "Hip Shakin' Mama" / "Hittin' on Nothin'" (Maison de Soul 1058) (1978)
- "Safe with Me" / "Zero Willpower" (RCS 1006) (1979)
- "Take What You Find" / "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie-Honey Bunch)" (RCS 1008) (1980)
- "A Woman Left Lonely" / "Dance Me Down Easy" (RCS 1010) (1980)
- "Looking Back" / Don't Stop" (RCS 1013) (1981)
- "Mardi Gras Manbo" / "I Believe Saints Go All the Way" (Sound of New Orleans 10311) (1988)
- 1964: Wish Someone Would Care (Imperial)
- 1966: Take a Look (Imperial)
- 1973: In Between Tears (Fungus)
- 1977: Irma Thomas Live - New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Island)
- 1978: Soul Queen of New Orleans (Maison De Soul)
- 1979: Safe with Me (RCS)
- 1981: In Between Tears (Charly) (reissue of Fungus LP)
- 1981: Hip Shakin' Mama (Charly) (reissue of Island LP)
- 1984: Down at Muscle Shoals (Chess/P-Vine) (recordings from 1967/68 for Chess)
- 1986: The New Rules (Rounder)
- 1988: The Way I Feel (Rounder)
- 1991: Live: Simply the Best (Rounder)
- 1992: True Believer (Rounder)
- 1993: Walk Around Heaven: New Orleans Gospel Soul (Rounder)
- 1993: Turn My World Around (Shanachie)
- 1997: The Story of My Life (Rounder)
- 1998: Sing It! (Rounder) with Marcia Ball & Tracy Nelson
- 2000: My Heart's in Memphis: The Songs of Dan Penn (Rounder)
- 2006: After the Rain (Rounder)
- 2008: Simply Grand (Decca/Rounder)
- 2014: Full Time Woman - The Lost Cotillion Album (RGM/Rhino) (recordings from 1971/72 for Atlantic/Cotillion)
- 1980s: Irma Thomas Sings (Bandy) Bandy/Minit
- 1986: Break-A-Way: The Best of Irma Thomas (Legendary Masters Series) (EMI-USA)
- 1983: Time Is on My Side (Kent) Minit/Imperial
- 1987: Breakaway (Stateside) Minit/Imperial
- 1987: Breakaway (abridged version of Stateside LP) (EMI-USA) Minit/Imperial
- 1990: Something Good: The Muscle Shoals Sessions (MCA-Chess) Chess
- 1991: Safe with Me/Irma Thomas Live (Paula)
- 1992: Time Is on My Side: The Best of Irma Thomas Volume 1 (EMI-USA) Minit/Imperial
- 1996: Ruler of Hearts (Charly) Minit/Bandy/Island
- 1996: Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans: The Irma Thomas Collection (Razor & Tie) Imperial/Minit
- 1996: Time Is on My Side (expanded CD reissue of 1983 LP) (Kent) Minit/Imperial
- 2001: If You Want It, Come and Get It (Rounder) Rounder
- 2005: Straight from the Soul (Stateside) Imperial/Minit
- 2006: A Woman's Viewpoint (Ace) Fungus/Canyon/RCS, etc.
- 2006: Wish Someone Would Care/Take a Look (Collectables) Imperial
- 2009: The Soul Queen of New Orleans: 50th Anniversary Celebration (Rounder) Rounder (Three previously unreleased, out of fifteen tracks.)
- 1993: B. B. King, Blues Summit (MCA), duet on "We're Gonna Make It"
- 2005: Various artists, I Believe to My Soul (Rhino)
- 2005: Various artists, Our New Orleans (Elektra/Nonesuch)
- 2006: The New Orleans Social Club, duet with Marcia Ball on "Look Up", from Sing Me Back Home (Burgundy Records/Honey Darling Records)
- 2007: Various artists, Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard), singing "I Can't Get New Orleans Off My Mind" with Marcia Ball
- 2010: Galactic, Ya-Ka-May (Anti), vocals on "Heart of Steel"
- 2011: Hugh Laurie, Let Them Talk
- "I Hear You Knockin' ", Jeff Hannusch, 1985 "I was born in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, February 18, 1941
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- Ankeny, Jason. "Biography: Irma Thomas". AMG. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
- "Irma Thomas - Soul Express 4/1994". soulexpress.net. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
- Simon, Scott (July 1, 2006). "A Visit with the Soul Queen of New Orleans". Weekend Edition Saturday (NPR).
- Elijah Wald; John Junkerman (1999). River of a Song. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 300–307.
- Bland, Archie (19 September 2016). "What was the best hour of television ever?". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
- Papet, Charlotte (12 March 2015). "Théorie Black Mirror: Un seul univers et une seule timeline?" (in French). Archived from the original on 16 July 2015. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
- "Blues Music Awards Nominees - 2013 - 34th Blues Music Awards". Blues.org. Retrieved 2013-03-21.
- "Blues Music Awards - Past Years". Blues.org. Retrieved 2013-05-24.
- "2014 Blues Music Awards Nominees and Winners". Blues.about.com. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
- Hannusch, John (2001). The Soul of New Orleans, a Legacy of Rhythm and Blues. Swallow Publications.
- Sinclair, John. "Irma Thomas: An Audience with the Soul Queen of New Orleans". Bluesaccess.com. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
- "Irma Thomas: A discography of US singles". Helsinki.fi. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Irma Thomas.|
- Official website
- Irma Thomas at the Internet Movie Database
- Lifetime Achievement Award
- Bio from the Oregonian
- NPR: A visit with the Soul Queen of New Orleans
- An interview with Irma Thomas at Soul Express, April 1994
- Bob Edwards Interview "At Home with Irma Thomas"
- An interview in April 2014 at Soul Express