Queen Esther (artist)

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Queen Esther
Queen Esther at an event in New York City, August 2014
Queen Esther at an event in New York City, August 2014
OccupationActor, songwriter, musician, playwright, librettist
EducationBA, The New School
Notable awardsGrand Prize, Jazzmobile Jazz Vocal Competition - 2008

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

A member of guitarist James Blood Ulmer's Black Rock Experience[2] and a jazz vocalist, she cultivates a sound that she describes as Black Americana.[3] Queen Esther was the 2008 Grand Prize winner of the Jazzmobile Jazz Vocal Competition,[4] and a 2013 regional finalist [5] and a 2014 finalist [6] 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 Atlanta, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, as the middle child and the only daughter, with six brothers and a four-octave range.[7]

While attending Northside High School, a magnet school in the performing arts (now North Atlanta High School) in Atlanta, 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 attended University of Texas and performed frequently on the local cabaret and theater scene in Austin with director Boyd Vance. She also performed with the band Moving Parts, opening for guitarist Larry Carlton,[8] the Neville Brothers and Crowded House.[8] She was in Ro-Tel and the Hot Tomatoes, a regional favorite specializing in theatrically showcasing girl group music from the 1950s and '60s.[9]

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 reworked the group without Vance to include a five-member band.[citation needed]


Guitarist Al Gilhausen introduced her to blues musician Hubert Sumlin. She lost herself in the blues and found her way back to her gospel and country roots.[9]

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

After forming the avant-blues duo Hoosegow with Elliott Sharp and releasing the critically acclaimed album Mighty (Homestead),[10] While on tour, she started her 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 musical Harlem Song. A member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA, she has toured in theatrical productions regionally, nationally, and internationally, performing in workshops, festivals, cabarets, plays, musicals, and Off-Broadway shows.

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 Ground Zero relief workers for free.[11] Produced by 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.[12][13]


Queen Esther and The Blue Crowns at Porgy and Bess in Vienna, Austria, 2015 (from l. to r. Pete Matthiessen, Mimi Jones, Queen Esther, Shirazette Tinnin)
James Blood Ulmer and The Black Rock Experience at City Winery in New York City, 2013 (from l. to r. Mark Peterson, Queen Esther, Ulmer, G. Calvin Weston)
J. C. Hopkins and Queen Esther at Minton's Harlem in New York City, 2014

A vocalist, songwriter, lyricist and guitarist, Queen Esther signed a publishing deal with Bug Music in 2004 [14] (now owned by BMG Rights Management)[15] and independently released her album Talkin' Fishbowl Blues. Of this effort, AllMusic wrote, "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."[16]

In 2014, Queen Esther produced and self-released her second Black Americana album The Other Side.[17] Featuring guitarists Marvin Sewell and Ronny Drayton as well as pedal steel guitarist Bob Hoffnar and violinist Charles Burnham, it was described by writer Geoffrey Himes as "the most exciting Afro-Americana release of the year."[18]

Queen Esther is a member of guitarist James Blood Ulmer's Black Rock Experience [19] with G. Calvin Weston (drums) and Mark Peterson (bass) and has toured Europe with Ulmer,[20] including his group Odyssey.

In 2014, J. C. Hopkins Biggish Band featuring Queen Esther[21] and jazz vocalist Charles Turner[22] began its residency at Minton's Harlem.[23] Jazz critic Will Friedwald wrote, "The combination of pianist-bandleader J. C. 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."[24]

Queen Esther performs with her quintet The Hot Five, which plays arrangements of American standards and original material. Performances include The Kennedy Center,[25] The Apollo Theater's Apollo Music Cafe, New Year's Eve Eve, an annual event produced by The Salon,[26][27] and the bi-annual Jazz Age Lawn Party,[28] presented by Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra.[29]


While in college and 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.[30]

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,[31] The Diva Series at George Street Playhouse[32] 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.[33]

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[34] and developing it further in performance workshops with Dixon Place and The Field.[35] 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.[36]

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.



  • Talkin' Fishbowl Blues (EL Recordings, 2004)
  • What is Love? (EL Recordings, 2010)
  • The Other Side (EL Recordings, 2014)[37]

As member or guest[edit]

With Hoosegow

With James Blood Ulmer

  • No Escape from the Blues: The Electric Lady Sessions (Hyena, 2003)[38]

With 52nd Street Blues Project

  • Blues & Grass (Chesky, 2004)

With J. C. Hopkins Biggish Band

  • Underneath a Brooklyn Moon (Tigerlily, 2005)

With The Harlem Experiment

With Elliott Sharp and Henry Kaiser

  • Electric Willie: A Tribute to Willie Dixon (Yellowbird [Germany], 2010)


  1. ^ "The Curmudgeon: Afro-Americana: Putting the Twang Back into Black Music". pastemagazine.com. 25 November 2014. 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. Archived from the original on 13 January 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  3. ^ "Queen Esther Interview". earcandymag.com. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  4. ^ All About Jazz (2008-06-22). "Jazzmobile Vocal Competition 2008; Queen Esther Takes the Night!". Allaboutjazz.com. Archived from the original on 2009-08-03. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  5. ^ NewSong Music (2014-07-30). "NewSong 2013 Regional Finalist Announcements". NewSong-Music.com. Archived from the original on 2014-12-13. Retrieved 2014-12-09.
  6. ^ NewSong Music (2014-07-30). "New York's Queen Esther & Canada's Dennis Ellsworth Win 2014 'Early Bird' Contest Finalist Spots". NewSong-Music.com.
  7. ^ "Queen Esther interview (February 2005)". Earcandymag.com. 2005-02-10. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  8. ^ a b http://www.stonecityattractions.com/rockplanet/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=72
  9. ^ a b Westergaard, Sean. "Queen Esther - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  10. ^ Milkowski, Bill. "Jazz Albums: MightyElliot Sharp and Queen Esther - By Bill Milkowski". Jazztimes.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  11. ^ TV.com (2002-02-10). "The It Factor - Season 1, Episode 12: New York City: Episode 12". TV.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  12. ^ Collins, Glenn (2001-11-14). "Public Lives - Public Lives - It's On With the Show, for Those Who Need It". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  13. ^ "Star-Studded 'Canteen' Entertains, Benefits Rescue Workers at TriBeCa Playhouse". Playbill.com. 2001-10-29. Archived from the original on 2013-01-31. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  14. ^ "Writers & Artists | BMG Chrysalis US". Bmgchrysalis.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  15. ^ "BMG Rights Management to Purchase Bug Music". Billboard.com. 12 September 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Talkin' Fishbowl Blues". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  17. ^ "Hard-Pressed Publicity presents Queen Esther". hardpressedpublicity.com. Archived from the original on 28 February 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  18. ^ "The Curmudgeon: Afro-Americana: Putting the Twang Back into Black Music". pastemagazine.com. 25 November 2014. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 18, 2013. Retrieved October 17, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ "This Rock n' Roll BlackGrrl's High Life".
  21. ^ "Turner Prize for Young Singer on the Rise". jazzfm.com. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  22. ^ "This Wednesday at Minton's Harlem". Archived from the original on 18 January 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  23. ^ "Broadway Star's Nightclub Debut - WSJ.com". online.wsj.com. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  24. ^ Friedwald, Will (30 May 2014). "NY Culture: Broadway Star's Nightclub Debut Megan Hilty Plays Café Carlyle and More in This Week's Jazz Scene". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  25. ^ "Queen Esther / Watch Past Performances". The Kennedy Center. Archived from the original on 2014-02-02.
  26. ^ Friedwald, Will (2011-12-30). "The Jazz Scene: Rolling With the Rhythms - WSJ.com". Online.wsj.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  27. ^ "THE SALON - Upcoming Events / Past Events". Thesalon.biz. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  28. ^ "Where The Flappers Are Flocking". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2013-10-19.
  29. ^ http://queen-esther.com/queen-esther-performs-jazz-age-lawn-party-2013/
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ PETER MARKS Published: August 27, 1998 (1998-08-27). "THEATER REVIEW; Sometimes Delightful, Never Easy: It's Fringe - New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  32. ^ "Hadary and Bishop to Read Paper Doll at George Street, April 30-May 2". Playbill.com. 1999-04-27. Archived from the original on 2013-01-31. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  33. ^ 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". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  34. ^ "Calendar - BLAZING TONGUES: Part 1". Harlem Stage. 2011-05-10. Archived from the original on 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  35. ^ http://newyork.localtiger.com/new-york-city/new-york-events/concerts---live-music/queen-esther-the-hot-five-120772.html
  36. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-08-06. Retrieved 2012-07-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  37. ^ "Queen Esther". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  38. ^ "Queen Esther | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 August 2018.

External links[edit]