Irma Thomas with Johnette and Scott at Jazz Fest

We are so excited that Irma Thomas will be performing Johnette’s song, “Poor Worry Anna,” with us in the Kids Tent at Jazz Fest on Saturday, April 27 at 2:50 PM. 

Irma and her daughter Tina came to our Jazz Fest show two years ago, when they danced in the audience. When we told Irma about our new recording project, she told us she would like to be on the record. The blend of Irma’s and Johnette’s voices turned out to be magical, and the song is a highlight of our Swamp Romp album.

Scott has known Irma for 35 years, as her record producer. After being introduced by writer Jeff Hannusch, they quickly made plans to record Irma’s debut for Rounder Records, The New Rules (with the wonderful title track by writer Paul Kelly, which was among the songs Scott had sent her). Scott arrived in New Orleans with arranger Bill Samuel, ready to get to work on the songs, but Irma had already rehearsed them with her band, and little further preparation was needed. The record is a wonderful document of Irma and her band, essentially performing live in the studio.

Over the years, they have made ten albums together, winning four Grammy nominations and one Grammy award. They’ve also become friends who have shared many experiences (walking in the mountains in Italy during the Porretta Soul Festival, celebrating their Grammy award together). 

Making the After the Rain album was an emotional experience. Scott thought that he and Irma might try something different: to get away from a pure R&B sound, and to simply find songs that would come alive when Irma interpreted them. Irma said, “Just send me what you’re thinking of—I’m open.” So, he sent songs by Blind Willie McTell, Eleni Mandell, Mississippi John Hurt, and more. Irma called him a few days later and said, “Scott, have you lost your mind? What am I going to do with these songs?” Then she paused for a moment and said, “Well, I know you’re hearing something, and you know me well. Let’s give it a try.” 

Then, Hurricane Katrina happened, only a few weeks before they were due to record. When they finally convened at Dockside Studio near Lafayette, two months later, it was like a family reunion of musicians who had not seen one another since the storm: drummer Stanton Moore, keyboardist David Torkanowsky, bassist James Singleton and others. Uncannily, all of the songs that Irma and Scott had chosen now seemed to be about the storm. When she sang the first song, Arthur Alexander’s “In the Middle of It All,” there was not a dry eye in the building. It was this album that won Irma her first Grammy, and Scott his second. 

Of course, there’s so much more to Irma’s long career—she is one of the icons of New Orleans music. We’re thrilled that she will be performing with us. 

Johnette Downing