The Soul Queen of New Orleans Still Reigns

May 3, 2016

Irma Thomas was born in Ponchatoula, Louisiana in 1941. Although she never achieved the same level of stardom that her contemporaries, Aretha Franklin and Etta James did, she has earned the title "The Soul Queen of New Orleans," and is in many ways an ambassador of the city.

In 1964 she penned the warm, soulful ballad "Wish Someone Would Care." The song is her greatest hit, but despite its success she vowed to never write again, saying that the lyrics of the song made her too sad. Thomas's ballad drew heavily from her own life -- by age 19, she had been married twice, had four children and was working as a waitress.

Thomas recorded for labels such as Ronn, Imperial, Chess, and Rounder. She eventually formed a lifelong partnership with New Orleans troubadour Allen Toussaint, who wrote songs and produced records for her until his death in 2015. She is perhaps most beloved for her hit "Its Raining," which has become a New Orleans anthem. The song was also featured in the Jim Jarmusch film Down By Law. 

Thomas celebrated her 75th birthday at Delgado Community College, where she founded the Irma Thomas Center for WISE Women, for "Women In Search of Excellence." She earned an associates degree from Delgado, and says that she is more proud of her degree than her Grammy Award.

She still performs regularly, and is a favorite at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Byway Blues is produced with the generous support of Washington Wine and Spirits, the Entergy Charitable Foundation, and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.