Notre Dame, IN (October 17, 2017)— If the French Quarter is the musical heart of New Orleans, then Preservation Hall is its heartbeat. Take a group of longtime performers from the venerable concert hall, combine them with the Crescent City’s “Soul Queen” Irma Thomas, throw in the spiritual authority of the Blind Boys of Alabama, and you get a very special concert at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, October 26 on the DeBartolo Performing Art Center’s Presenting Series.
Irma Thomas, known as the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” is a contemporary of Aretha Franklin and Etta James. Born Irma Lee, as a teen she sang with a Baptist church choir, auditioning for Specialty Records as a 13-year-old. By 19 she had been married twice and had four children. Keeping her second ex-husband’s surname, she worked as a waitress in New Orleans, occasionally singing with bandleader Tommy Ridgley, who helped her land a record deal with the local Ron label. Her first single, “(You Can Have My Husband but) Don’t Mess with My Man,” was released in spring 1960, and reached number 22 on the Billboard R&B chart.
She then began recording on the Minit label, working with songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint on songs including “It’s Raining” and “Ruler of my Heart”, which was later reinterpreted by Otis Redding as “Pain In My Heart.” Imperial Records acquired Minit in 1963, and a string of successful releases followed. These included “Wish Someone Would Care” (her biggest national hit), its B-side “Breakaway,” written by Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheely (later covered by Tracey Ullman among others), “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” (co-written by a young Randy Newman and future country star Jeannie Seely, among others), and “Time Is on My Side” (a song previously recorded by Kai Winding, and later by the Rolling Stones).
After several years’ break from recording, she was signed by Rounder Records, and in 1991 earned her first-ever Grammy Award nomination for Live! Simply the Best. She subsequently released a number of traditional gospel albums, together with more secular recordings. The album Sing It! was nominated for a Grammy in 1999. In August 2009, a compilation album with three new songs titled The Soul Queen of New Orleans: 50th Anniversary Celebration was released from Rounder Records to commemorate Thomas’ 50th year as a recording artist.
In 2013, Thomas won a Blues Music Award in the “Soul Blues Female Artist” category. She won the same award in 2014.
The Blind Boys of Alabama have the rare distinction of being recognized around the world as both living legends and modern-day innovators. These six-time Grammy Award winners are not just gospel singers borrowing from old traditions; the group helped to define those traditions in the 20th century and almost single-handedly created a new gospel sound for the 21st century. Since the original members first sang together as kids in the late 1930s (including Jimmy Carter, who leads the group today), the band has persevered through seven decades to become one of the most recognized and decorated roots-music groups in the world. In 2005, they released Down in New Orleans, a Grammy Award winner for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album.
The Preservation Hall Legacy Quintet represents a tradition that started in 1961 when Preservation Hall first opened in the French Quarter. This band is composed of some of the most revered alumni, many of whom have toured the world with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for decades. As the world-renowned Preservation Hall Jazz Band continues its exciting exploration of the boundaries of New Orleans jazz, the Preservation Hall Legacy Quintet was formed, with the help of the nonprofit Preservation Hall Foundation, to help maintain a connection with the traditional aspects of the Hall’s musical legacy.