Irma Thomas

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Irma Thomas
Irma Thomas at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 2006
Background information
Birth nameIrma Lee
Also known asSoul Queen of New Orleans
Born (1941-02-18) February 18, 1941 (age 79)
Ponchatoula, Louisiana, United States
Genres R&B, soul, blues, gospel, pop
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Years active1959–present

Irma Thomas (born February 18, 1941) [1] [2] is an American singer from New Orleans. [3] She is known as the "Soul Queen of New Orleans". [2]


Thomas is a contemporary of Aretha Franklin and Etta James, but never experienced their level of commercial success. [2] 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. [4]

Life and career

Born Irma Lee, in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, United States, [5] 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", [5] was released in late 1959, and reached number 22 on the US Billboard R&B chart. [2]

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". [5] Imperial Records acquired Minit in 1963, and a string of successful releases followed. These included "Wish Someone Would Care", her biggest national hit; [5] 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)" was co-written by a young Randy Newman and future country star Jeannie Seely. This song has gained renewed appreciation as a result of its inclusion in numerous episodes of the science fiction anthology television series Black Mirror , stretching back to the first season. [6] On its B-side is "Time Is on My Side", [5] a song previously recorded by Kai Winding and later by the Rolling Stones. [2]

Her first four Imperial singles all charted on Billboard's pop chart, but her later releases were less successful. [2] 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 1967–1968 with some success; her version of the Otis Redding song "Good to Me" reached the R&B chart. [5] [2] 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. [2]

Down by Law , the 1986 independent film by Jim Jarmusch featured "It's Raining" in the soundtrack. [7] 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. [8] 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. [2]

Thomas is still active as a performer, appearing annually at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. [9] She reigned as Queen of the Krewe du Vieux for the 1998 New Orleans Mardi Gras season. [10] 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. [11] According to her website she is now back in her home in New Orleans.

Thomas appearing with James Taylor and others in 2008 Etown james and irma.jpg
Thomas appearing with James Taylor and others in 2008

In April 2007, Thomas was honored for her contributions to Louisiana music with induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. [12] 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". [13] The same year she won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for After the Rain . [4]

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. [14]

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. [15] 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. [16] 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 2013, Thomas was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the "Soul Blues Female Artist" category, [17] which she duly won. [18] She won the same award in 2014. [19]

In 2018, Thomas received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance at the Americana Music Honors & Awards. [20]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Irma Thomas among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. [21]

Artists worked with




YearA-sideB-sideRecord label and catalog referenceUS chart statistics [24]
1959"Don't Mess with My Man""Set Me Free" Ron Records 328No. 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 66013No. 17 – Pop
1964"Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)""Time Is on My Side"Imperial Records 66041No. 52 – Pop
1964"Times Have Changed""Moments to Remember"Imperial Records 66069No. 98 – Pop
1964"He's My Guy""(I Want A) True, True Love"Imperial Records 66080No. 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 2036No. 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



YearTitleRecord labelNotes
1964Wish Someone Would Care Imperial
1966Take a LookImperial
1973In Between TearsFungus
1977Irma Thomas Live – New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Island
1978Soul Queen of New Orleans Maison de Soul
1979Safe with MeRCS
1981In Between Tears Charly Reissue of Fungus LP
1981Hip Shakin' MamaCharlyReissue of Island LP
1984Down at Muscle Shoals Chess/P-Vine from 1967/68 for Chess
1986The New Rules Rounder
1988The Way I FeelRounder
1991Live: Simply the BestRounder
1992True BelieverRounder
1993Walk Around Heaven: New Orleans Gospel SoulRounder
1993Turn My World Around Shanachie
1997The Story of My LifeRounder
1998Sing It!Rounderwith Marcia Ball & Tracy Nelson
2000My Heart's in Memphis: The Songs of Dan PennRounder
2006 After the Rain Rounder
2008Simply GrandRounder /Decca
2014Full Time Woman – The Lost Cotillion AlbumRGM/Rhino from 1971/72 for Atlantic/Cotillion


Compilation albums

YearTitleRecord labelNotes
1979Irma Thomas SingsBandyBandy/Minit recordings
1983Time Is on My Side Kent Minit/Imperial recordings
1986Break-A-Way: The Best of Irma ThomasLegendary Masters Series (EMI-USA)
1987BreakaWay Stateside Minit/Imperial recordings
1990Something Good: The Muscle Shoals Sessions MCA/Chess Chess recordings
1991Safe with Me/Irma Thomas LivePaula
1992Time Is on My Side: The Best of Irma Thomas Volume 1EMI-USAMinit/Imperial
1996Ruler of HeartsCharlyMinit/Bandy/Island
1996Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans: The Irma Thomas Collection Razor & Tie Minit/Imperial
1996Time Is on My SideKentExpanded version of 1983 LP
2001If You Want It, Come and Get ItRounder
2005Straight from the SoulStatesideMinit/Imperial
2006A Woman's ViewpointAceFungus/Canyon/RCS
2006Wish Someone Would Care/Take a Look Collectables Imperial
2009The Soul Queen of New Orleans: 50th Anniversary CelebrationRounderThree previously unreleased, out of fifteen tracks


Guest appearances

1993 Blues Summit B.B. King MCA Duet on "We're Gonna Make It" [27]
2005I Believe to My SoulVarious artists Rhino Singing "Loving Arms" [28]
2005 Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast Various artists Elektra/Nonesuch Singing "Back Water Blues" [29]
2006Sing Me Back HomeThe New Orleans Social Club Burgundy/Honey DarlingDuet with Marcia Ball on "Look Up" [30]
2007 Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino Various artists Vanguard Duet with Marcia Ball on "I Can't Get New Orleans Off My Mind" [13]
2010Ya-Ka-MayGalactica Anti- Vocals on "Heart of Steel" [31]
2011 Let Them Talk Hugh Laurie Warner Bros. Vocals on "John Henry" and "Baby, Please Make a Change" [32]


1978 Always for Pleasure
2006 New Orleans Music in Exile
2010 Treme TV series

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