Telluride Jazz Festival: Queen of Soul Of New Orleans, Irma Thomas

Telluride Jazz Festival: Queen of Soul Of New Orleans, Irma Thomas

The Telluride Jazz Festival 2.0 boasts a robust and diverse artist lineup thanks to the new management group, Steve Gumble’s SBG Productions, which also programs Telluride Blues & Brews and the Durango Blues Train.

Passes and tickets to the Telluride Jazz Festival, are still on sale, including the Patron Experience, VIP Experience and general festival passes. Purchase them here now.

This year’s headliners include Bruce Hornsby, Karl Denson – and Irma Thomas, Soul Queen of New Orleans.

Please scroll down for more on Irma Thomas. And check out her podcast.

Irma Thomas, Queen of Soul of New Orleans. She debuts at the Telluride Jazz Festival Friday night.

Some cats love it, man. Most simply ain’t digging’ it no matter what angle they’s swingin’ at. Layin’ down ten, Jack, blow’n a riff, ya can’t hate Jazz ’cause there ain’t no such animal.” (“Jazz: A Multimedia History,” Compton’s New Media.)

There is such an animal, because “jazz” encompasses so many different styles, sounds, rhythms and eras summed up in a one-syllable word.

Different strokes for different folks.

Musical quicksilver.

“Jazz is only what you are,” said legendary trumpet player Louis Armstrong.

Telluride Jazz has defined itself over the years as a rich gumbo of classical jazz, mainstream, blues Brazilian, African and Latin sounds – and for the event’s new impresario, Steve Gumble, who took over the management of the weekend last year, also blues and soul.

Soul is historically grounded in R&B and gospel, served up with a hefty helping of improvisation (the jazz link). The genre is associated with the likes of performers such as Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Otis Redding…

And with Irma Thomas, also known as “The Soul Queen of New Orleans,” a title conferred on the artist in 1989 by the mayor of New Orleans at the time.

Irma Thomas headlines at the upcoming Telluride Jazz Festival 2018. Her debut is scheduled for Friday, August 3, 8 p.m. So get ready for a voice as sweet and viscous as honey. Expect authenticity, conviction and total honesty: Irma is known for choosing songs that resonate in her life. Also for talking with her audience. And for having lots of fun onstage, her natural habitat.

Rumor has it when Irma performed in the Windy City last year, she had the crowd in stitches dishing about her two marriages – which did not work out – and a third to Emile Thompson, which did because, according to one eyewitness account, she told her fans she trained him just right. The riff was tied into one of Thomas’ classics “(You Can Have My Husband But) Please Don’t Mess With My Man.”

Another Irma go-to is “Forever Young,” a 1962 R & B chestnut, which the artist always dedicates to her fans.

Perhaps the song is also the lady’s mantra.

In May, the 77-year-old Irma Thomas, known to R & B/soul fans all over the world, but most loved in her hometown of New Orleans, received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters degree from Tulane University.

But life was not always a bed of roses and laurels for the entertainer.

Irma Thomas was born on February 18, 1941 in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, as Irma Lee. True her voice got recognition early on: she won first place in a talent show when she was in the sixth grade. However by the time Irma was 14, she was married and pregnant and had to drop out of school. Still Irma was – and remains – a woman with a gift for turning lemons into lemonade.

As a single mom, she was the breadwinner. At one point working by day selling sewing machines and singing at night. Her resume also includes dishwasher, cook, waitress  – whatever it took to feed her family. (She has four children.)

Irma’s first break came when, while waitressing at a club, she asked the bandleader, Tommy Ridgely, is she could sing with his band.

That was 1959. Irma was 18.

The audience fell in love.

As have audiences every since: Irma Thomas’ career now spans five decades.

Irma Thomas, courtesy, The Current.

In addition to Ridgely, who helped Thomas get gigs, another mentor was the influential songwriter, arranger and record producer Allen Toussaint, a heavyweight in the New Orleans R & B scene from the 1950s to the end of the 20th century. Toussaint worked with Irma on numerous recordings in the 1960s.

That is until 1969, when Hurricane Camille demolished the Gulf Coast clubs where she had been booked. The storm and the musical trends of the 1960s blew away her dreams.

On to the lemonade…

In the end, Irma Thomas went back to school. And, after years of touring and doing homework on airplanes, she managed to earn an associate’s degree in business from Delgado Community College. It took 15 years.

Irma Thomas also won a Grammy in 2007 for Best Contemporary Blues Album and been recognized many times over for humanitarian work in the Big Easy.

For more about Irma’s life and work, listen to her podcast.

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