It's not easy to say Irma Thomas is my favorite New Orleans artist when people like James Booker and Allen Toussaint and Fats Domino and Jon Cleary and John Boutte and Stanton Moore and Snooks Eaglin and Dr. John and The Meters exist.
I'm not comfortable saying she is my favorite soul singer knowing there are Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye records out there.
But today, Irma Thomas is 80 years old and so for today and I guess everyday, I am comfortable saying she is my favorite New Orleans soul singer and one of my favorite artists of all time.
I don't recall the first time I knew it was Irma Thomas' voice I was
hearing. Growing up, New Orleans was a place on the map and people like
Fats Domino and Miss Irma were just voices on the radio like Sly &
The Family Stone and Sonny & Cher. One afternoon, I was visiting my
roommate at the video store he had been managing, and I heard this song
playing that, for whatever reason at that moment, sounded like pure
heaven. My friend's co-worker Kyle showed me a cassette. "It's Irma
Thomas." The song was "Take A Look." That was 1987 and that's when I
became a fan for life. That song was played at the right place, at the
I bought this record that Kyle had on cassette. It was a U.K. import on the Kent label, "Time Is On My Side" and I played it everyday, staring at the cover, assuming Irma Thomas was long gone. (There was no Google in 1987.)
The first time I set foot in New Orleans, some twenty-plus years ago, I was overwhelmed by everything: the sights, the smells, the heat, the food, the booze and the music, of course. But the one thing I could not comprehend was that this dream singer named Irma Thomas was not only alive, but owned a club called The Lion's Den and she performed there whenever the hell she pleased.
Since 1999, I've seen Irma Thomas perform live at least a dozen times, mostly in New Orleans, occasionally singing gospel, which is truly an experience not of this Earth, and even once or twice in New York City. I even recall declaring after one particularly moving set, how I felt like Irma Thomas was *the* best female R&B singer. Even better than Aretha! I blame New Orleans for that bit of folly. That city can make you say and do anything. I promise I won't say it again, even if on certain days, I really do think it.
(I took that photo above in the Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2009, I believe.)
Here's an Irma six pack and a bigger Spotify playlist to celebrate.
Six Pack Tracks:
Take A Look
Two Winters Long
The Hurt's All Gone
Sing It w/Marcia Ball & Tracy Nelson