The clich/ is that Irma Thomas is the queen of New Orleans soul. The reality is that she is the queen of New Orleans soul. In between the reality and the clich/ exists the very same artist: one true to her roots and musical vision.
Maybe she’s remained true to herself because if she hadn’t, life would’ve picked her up and tossed her aside as it has so many women in her circumstances.
Thomas was born in 1941. A mere 14 years later, she was a schoolgirl pregnant with her first child and married to her first husband.
The short marriage produced two kids. By 17, she was married again and then pregnant again. This second brief union gave Thomas two more children to provide for.
She was serving drinks in a New Orleans club at 18 when her musical career began. Tommy Ridgely and his band were performing there and Thomas wrangled an opportunity to get up on stage and sing with the group — she was fired for doing so — but her career in music took off.
Another year went by and she had her first hit, “(You Can Have My Husband, But Please) Don’t Mess With My Man.”
Though Thomas has no glittering string of platinum and gold records to hang on a mansion wall, she’s had a career that has helped shape the identity of one of America’s greatest music cities, New Orleans.
Thomas has always been able to melt down the pain in her life and pour it into her art, as she did with “Wish Someone Would Care,” an R&B hit for her in 1964.
“Sitting home alone,
Thinking about my past.
Wondering how I made it
And how it’s gonna last.
Success has come to lots of them
And a failure is always there.
Time waits for no one.
And I wish, how I wish, someone would care…”
“I was really at the low point when I wrote that,” she once told a writer. “I was just looking back at life. I was a 14-year-old mother, I had three kids when I was 17, and I was on my second marriage. At the time, I was breaking up with my husband because he was giving me a hard time about being on stage. It was a song from my heart, that’s probably why it sold so well; I really wanted someone to care, to stand beside me and care.”
The queen is in town to help you shake your jewels. Don’t miss the show.
W-T Jan. 3-4, 7 p.m. & 9 p.m.Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Mall$30-$45. 332-1010, www.dakotacooks.com