Blues belter Irma Thomas, who shot to fame with soulful 1960s-era renditions of “(You Can Have My Husband but) Don’t Mess with My Man,” “It’s Raining” and “Time Is On My Side,” will be honored today with a new bronze statue at Musical Legends Park in New Orleans.
Thomas burst onto the national scene with “(You Can Have My Husband but) Don’t Mess with My Man,” a perennial concert favorite today that was originally released by Specialty in 1960 and went to No. 22 on the Billboard R&B chart. She worked with legendary producer Allen Toussaint at the Minit label, producing “It’s Raining” and “Ruler of my Heart,” — the latter of which became “Pain in My Heart” in the hands of Stax soulman Otis Redding. “Break-a-Way,” the B-side to Thomas’ national hit “Wish Someone Would Care,” was later covered by Tracey Ullman. Her song “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” was co-written by the young Randy Newman, and “Time Is on My Side” was subsequently a hit for the Rolling Stones.
Thomas remains active in recording and touring. Her 2007 album After the Rain won a Grammy for best contemporary blues album, the first in the Ponchatoula, Louisiana, native’s lengthy career.
“I have had a remarkable career and it is an absolute thrill to be joining my friends in New Orleans Musical Legends Park,” Thomas told The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. “Awards of this caliber are once in a lifetime and to be able to celebrate it with my friends and family in the place I call home is exhilarating.”
Musical Legends Park, located in the 300 block of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, is already home to bronze likenesses of Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Chris Owens, Ronnie Kole and Louis Prima. Thomas’ statue will be unveiled at 5:30 p.m., with a reception to follow.
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Irma Thomas. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
IRMA THOMAS – SIMPLY GRAND (2008): Thomas, whose Louisiana legend of a voice has darkened into a more expressive place, is taking a similar career tack. The new “Simply Grand,” in fact, finds Thomas moving deeper into the emotional underpinnings of her best work at a time when safer environs would probably be more profitable. That perhaps started with her most recent recording on Rounder, the Grammy-award winning “After the Rain,” which included a pared-down set of serious-minded improvisers (pianist David Torkanowsky and slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, among them) in direct contrast to the standard R&B setting that surely was an easier sell. Here, on the follow up “Simply Grand,” producer Scott Billington sheds still more layers — highlighting this new Blues Hall of Famer with an uncluttered series of small groups featuring pianists like Dr. John, David Egan, Ellis Marsalis, John Medeski, Marcia Ball, Randy Newman, Torkanowsky and Norah Jones, among others. The result is as revealing a record as Thomas has made, one that adds another dimension to her already towering legacy. For a singer long known as the Queen of Soul, she’s found new depths.
THE NEW ORLEANS SOCIAL CLUB – SING MY BACK HOME (2005): There are few American cities with native talent enough to be capable of putting together a band the magnitude of the New Orleans Social Club and certainly few cities have been asked to persevere under circumstances quite like Hurricane Katrina. Much like Bruce Springsteen’s post-9/11 The Rising, Sing Me Back Home is a musical attempt at trying to understand what happened, why and how it makes us feel. Many of the artists involved were about as close as you can get to a situation, themselves being displaced from home, living in a strange city and unsure of what the future might hold. This is a special album. Not only do you get great music, you get a piece of American and New Orleans history. With a roster that includes names such as Irma Thomas, Henry Butler, John Boutte, Dr. John, Marcia Ball and Cyril, Ivan and Charles Neville, it would have been difficult to go wrong with this project, but fortunately they not only met expectations they often exceeded them.