Over a career spanning nearly six decades, singer Irma Thomas has amassed an impressive list of accomplishments: hit records, Grammys, performances in prestigious venues, world tours and the soubriquet “The Soul Queen of New Orleans.”
Capping it all off is a namesake live show in which she sings and narrates her story.
“Simply Irma” opens Friday night at the Anthony Bean Community Theater and runs for two weekends.
The show, which originated during the theater’s inaugural season in 2000, has added accomplishments Thomas has accrued over the past 15 years. Among them is the Grammy Award she won in 2007 for best contemporary blues album for “After the Rain.”
“We’re going to update it a bit, but the story doesn’t change that much,” Thomas said.
“It’s still just the basic story,” she said. “We just updated some of the monologue. It will be different because of things that happened within that time since that last show.”
Other singers and dancers will accompany Thomas onstage for all the performances. Anthony Bean will direct the show and will deliver part of the narration. Choreography is by Giselle Nakhid, vocal direction is by Steve Burke and costumes are by Ms. B.
Although she was born in Ponchatoula, Thomas has spent all but a few years of her life in New Orleans.
She lived in California for about six years, working as a store clerk and singing on weekends, and was displaced for two years when Hurricane Katrina flooded her New Orleans East home.
Thomas’ career began in earnest in 1960 when she recorded “You Can Have My Husband (But Don’t Mess With My Man)” on the locally based Ronn label. Working closely with songwriter/producer/pianist Allen Toussaint in the early ’60s, she recorded a string of hits, including “It’s Raining,” “Ruler of My Heart,” “Wish Someone Would Care,” “Time is On My Side” and others on the Minit and Imperial labels.
However, Thomas’ life and career, like that of nearly all other performers, has had its ups and downs.
She enjoyed widespread acclaim early in her career, only to see it dissipate somewhat when the British Invasion hit. She continued to perform locally and recorded a string of singles on minor labels throughout the 1970s, but none of them made a dent in the Billboard charts.
Her career was revived when she signed on with the Rounder record label in the mid-’80s, and she has been with the label ever since.
In all, Thomas has released nearly three dozen singles and close to 40 albums, including compilations. Her repertoire spans the genres of rhythm and blues, soul, blues, gospel and pop.
Her Grammy in 2007 came after three previous nominations. Most recently, in 2013, she was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the soul blues female artist category, and she won the award the following year.
In 2010, she appeared as herself in the HBO TV series “Treme.”
Speaking about the production, Bean noted, “We have 14 cast members, including a lot of young dancers because (Thomas) was 17 when she had her first song. So we’ve got a young Irma as a senior in high school. It’s mostly a young cast because we talk about her younger years. It’s really exciting.”
At 75, Thomas shows no signs of slowing down, but wherever she goes, she always comes back to her rebuilt house in New Orleans East.
“How do I feel about New Orleans? I can sum that up in one sentence: I love this place,” Thomas said. “That’s why I came back here. This is home to me. I have no inclination to live or want to live anywhere else.”