Hard luck is, if not a constant, a melody line in the story of Irma Thomas. By the time she was 19, she'd been married twice and had four children. She had some early success as a singer -- one of her first songs, "You Can Have My Husband, But Please Don't Mess With My Man," made the Billboard R&B charts. But several of her greatest songs were later recorded by others who had monster hits with them. For instance, does anyone recognize this number? Or for soul aficionados, what about this one, later recorded by Otis Redding under another title? In 2005, she lost her night club due to Hurricane Katrina.
Still, it's not all bad news. Her post-Katrina album, After the Rain, won a Grammy in 2006. Known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans, she has always been a heroine in her home town, where her concerts (like this one she performed last Wednesday in Lafayette Square) are packed. Her music has been favored by filmmakers, and her songs have been featured recently in Why Did I Get Married Too?, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Secret Life of Bees and Butterfly On a Wheel. (And perhaps most memorably in this scene from Down by Law.) The other day, when she sang her most famous tune, "It's Raining," it brought tears to many an eye. I wished she'd sang "While the City Sleeps," one of my favorite adultery songs, written for her by Randy Newman in the early 1960s. You can find it in her greatest hits collection.