Artist Details

Irma Thomas

The unrivaled Soul Queen of New Orleans -- a title officially bestowed by local officials, no less -- Irma Thomas ranks among Crescent City R&B's greatest and most enduring musical ambassadors, never enjoying the coast-to-coast commercial success of contemporaries like Aretha Franklin and Etta James but nevertheless breathing the same rarified air in the minds of many soul music aficionados. Born Irma Lee in Ponchatoula, LA, on February 18, 1941, as a teen she sang with a Baptist church choir, even auditioning for Specialty Records as a 13-year-old. A year later, she gave birth to her first child, marrying the baby's father and subsequently giving birth to another child before the union dissolved. At 17 she wed again, this time to one Andrew Thomas, having two more babies before she again divorced, all before the age of 20. Keeping her second ex-husband's surname, Thomas went to work as a waitress at New Orleans' Pimlico Club, occasionally sitting in with bandleader Tommy Ridgley. When the club's owner dismissed her for spending more time singing than waiting tables, Ridgley agreed to help her land a record deal, setting up auditions with the local Minit and Ronn labels. The latter issued her saucy debut single, "You Can Have My Husband (But Don't Mess with My Man)," in the spring of 1960, and the record quickly reached the number 22 spot on the Billboard R&B chart. However, Thomas accused Ronn of withholding royalties and after one more effort for the label, "A Good Man," she briefly landed with the Bandy label, releasing 1961's "Look Up" before relocating to Minit.