Celebrating Irma Thomas’ 80th Birthday

When you hear Irma Thomas called the Soul Queen of New Orleans, its natural and correct to assume its a reference to one of her singing styles. But I think it also can refer to her role as a sustainer of the city’s soul. Happy 80th birthday to Irma Thomas!

She “had four children by age 19” adorns just about every write up of her and my guess is that this repeated fact helps establish that nothing has come easy for Ms. Thomas. She has worked for her success, raised (more than four) children, held down day jobs, lost her home to Hurricane Katrina and performed music through six decades that have not always been kind. Here’s a short bio from the Delgado Community College Women Center — an empowerment center she’s been deeply involved in since she earned her associates degree in business from Delgado – – – at the age of 60. Oh, and the center bears her name.

Irma Thomas at the Chicago Blues Festival, 2016.

This week’s show features songs to show off some of Irma’s range, starting with her version of Fats Domino’s “I Just Can’t Get New Orleans Off My Mind.” I follow that up with “Cry On” recorded when she first started with Minit records (during the Allen Toussaint heyday). Also “Back Water Blues” and “Thinking of You.” There’s a few other gems in this set, including her vocals with Galactic (“Heart of Steel”) and her harmonizing with Marcia Ball and Tracy Nelson from their Sing It! record.

So that first 20 minutes is all about Irma and good reason to listen to the show, but there’s reason continue to listen as well! What with The Crooked Vines “Everything New” from their latest, the New Orleans Suspects covering James Booker’s “Classified” followed by James Booker covering Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.”

A little more name dropping: Henry Gray, Leyla McCalla, Larry Garner, Lost Bayou Rambler, Arsene Delay, Free Spirit Brass Band, Mindi Abair rocking with Trombone Shorty and the New Orleans Johnnys.

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