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Episode 3 - Irma Thomas

Updated: May 8, 2020

Today’s Stairwell Teatro Episode is about the Soul Queen of New Orleans: my namesake Irma Thomas, whose first name is pronounced Ur-ma. My parents gave me the Spanish language version where the first syllable is pronounced like "ir" in iridescent. While I'm quite insistent on how I’d like people to say my name, I also stand up for all the Urmas who use the English pronunciation.

When I launched my mini-video storytelling series last week, I was not aware there was a performance group called The Stairwell Theater in New York City. Fortunately, I did not get a "cease and desist" letter from them. I learned this in a simple google search which I should have done before using the name. I've renamed mine the Stairwell Teatro Series and since most of my thinking is done in both English and Spanish, that seems a more fitting name.

I was pleased to hear your feedback about the first two episodes; thank you for taking the time to watch. If you aren't a current subscriber to my newsletter, which will get the latest installment of a video or blog to your mailbox, please sign up to receive it via my website,, or by letting me know at

I imagine it will be many months before my one-woman show, Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? will be back on stage, so in the meantime, I'm sharing stories about names directly with you via three to four-minute videos. Some vignettes are about the ways we show respect when we say a person’s name correctly, and other stories display the dismissiveness some folks encounter daily around their names, and some are just fun stories.

I'm a big fan of Irma Thomas' song Time Is On My Side, and love both the Irma Thomas and Rolling Stones' versions. Irma was just 23 when she recorded that song. While touring in England in 1964, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard attended one of her shows in Manchester. In a conversation on the side of the stage, the Rolling Stones expressed their love of her song and told her they planned to record it as well. They did, and it was the Rolling Stones' first Top 10 hit in the United States. When they came on tour in the US with their BIG hit, the Stones invited Tina Turner to be their opening act, which understandably did not sit well with Irma.

Time Is On My Side became a Rolling Stones classic immediately and Irma Thomas quit performing it. In 1992 Bonnie Raitt invited Irma Thomas to be part of Raitt's New Year's Eve show in New Orleans and encouraged her to start singing that song again. They sang Time Is On My Side in a duet that evening and Irma Thomas reintroduced her beautiful rendition. To get a fuller picture of how this impacted her early career, click here.

In her long and distinguished career, Irma Thomas has recorded many songs and won her first Grammy (Best Contemporary Blues) in 2007 for After the Rain, a studio album recorded shortly after Hurricane Katrina extensively damaged her home and temporarily displacing her and her family. Note that in my video I say her home was destroyed, but in fact, the brick home was still standing, its interior completely destroyed. To read more on her reflections about Katrina and other hurricanes, and how she and other New Orleans musicians fared after the Hurricane Katrina, click here to read this American Public Media story.

During the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important we shelter in place, por favor, quedense en casa. If you must go out, wear a mask and gloves, and get some exercise and sunshine whenever you can. Continue to observe the necessary physical distance and keep any trips for essential errands (groceries/pharmacy) to a minimum. These measures will keep you and your family safe and protects vulnerable people in our communities.

Thanks for watching this episode.

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