Irma Thomas is so familiar to the people of New Orleans, her music such a part of the local lexicon, that she has achieved single-name status. Mention “Irma” to someone from the city and they’ll almost certainly know who you mean.
Irma: My Life in Music is a brand new documentary on the singer known as the “Soul Queen of New Orleans.” It features fresh interviews with Irma, music industry figures who have factored into her life and career, and fellow musicians, as well as extensive performance footage.
There are no huge revelations or hidden scandals within its 90 minutes. That’s in large part because Thomas has always been so open and accessible. She was a married mom at 15, had two more babies before she turned 18, and was soon divorced. She supported herself and her kids with a waitressing job, from which she was famously fired for singing. She’s often recounted the ups and downs of her life, even as she’s kept right on singing.
Established New Orleans R&B singer Tommy Ridgley took Thomas under his wing and helped get her into a recording studio. The result was You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don’t Mess With My Man), her first hit single. In the film, she goes on to tell the story of how she recorded Time is on My Side before the Rolling Stones scored their first Top 10 hit in the U.S. with it, then stopped singing it, then brought it back at the request of Bonnie Raitt. We see her performing such favourites as Breakaway, Hip Shakin’ Mama, Ruler of My Heart and I Wish Someone Would Care, along with such lesser-known gems as a piano and voice duet with Allen Toussaint, her frequent producer and songwriter, on I’m Gonna Cry Til My Eyes Run Dry.
Thomas recently joined us in the Gumbo Kitchen to talk about the documentary and the amazing life story it tells.