Irma Thomas: Soul Queen of New Orleans

Christina Knight | February 2, 2022

Woman with afro holds mic and wears halter top and pants performing on an outdoor stage

Irma Thomas at the 1975 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Courtesy of Historic New Orleans Collection

Irma: My Life in Music premieres Tuesday, February 8 at 9:30 p.m. as part of Black History Month programming.

This 90-minute documentary centers on Irma Thomas, the “Soul Queen of New Orleans.” Although Thomas didn’t experience the same kind of commercial success as her contemporaries, Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, her impact on R&B music is just as great. It was her recording of songwriter Jerry Ragovoy’s song “Time is On My Side” in 1964 that inspired the Rolling Stones to record it, earning them their first U.S. number 1 hit! For Thomas, “Time is On My Side” was b-side to “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand),” which has been featured in the series Black Mirror.

Irma Thomas: Time is On My Side

A Grammy and New Orleans Jazz Fest

In 2007, Irma Thomas won at Grammy for Best Blues album for After the Rain. In 2021, Craft Recordings offered the first vinyl release of the album, which was reviewed with high praise by Blues Blast magazine.

Irma: My Life in Music features archival concert and interview footage culled from decades of performances filmed at The New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival (April 20 to May 8 in 2022). The film also has extensive interview with Irma herself, as well as archival and new interviews from her colleagues, among them record producer Scott Billington; producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Quint Davis; recording artist and actress Ledisi; singer and songwriter Bonnie Raitt; and musician, songwriter and record producer, the late Allen Toussaint.

A woman in orange dress sits at grand piano with her Grammy Award on it.

Irma Thomas in 2021 at WYES-TV, New Orleans. On the piano is her Grammy Award. Courtesy WYES.

NJ PBS is honored to share her story and artistry with audiences in a broadcast on Tuesday, February 8 at 9:30 p.m. For more on Thomas’s life and career we recommend three other sources.

At age 80 in 2021, Thomas talked about her life and career in an interview with Nola.com, the year she was the subject of a house float for Mardi Gras.

In 2008, Thomas was interviewed for The History Makers, a nonprofit whose mission is to share the stories of well-known and unsung African Americans.

Learn more about the film on WYES, the PBS station of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

A woman with teased black hair and shimmering silver sleeveless dress.

Irma Thoma. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images