queen esther, music

Gild The Black Lily — a review from Country Music People (UK)

This review appears in the May 2021 issue of Country Music People. Thank you for reading this version.

Queen Esther is now living in New York but, she is very much a woman of the South. Raised in Atlanta, her music, a mix of country, gospel, blues, and Americana, is very much rooted in the South and the history of black American music. The singer’s new album is the usual quality mix of cover versions and originals. 

Queen Esther has a great passion for music as we can hear on a song like John The Revelator. This track dates back to 1930 and Blind Willie Johnson. It’s a gospel/blues call and response song and Queen Esther brings gospel fervour to the song. The minimal backing track of only a drum and a few handclaps lets the vocal blaze through the classic song. 

We get the country side of Queen Esther on a remake of the old song She Thinks I Still Care which here becomes He Thinks I Still Care. The original was written by country legend Dickie Lee with Steve Duffy and almost every country singer of any importance has recorded it most notably George Jones. Queen Esther’s soulful voice is perfect for this classic song. The backing track melts into the background letting listeners concentrate on her voice. The singer also tackles the 1927 country/blues track Lonesome Road which is a perfect song for her. Her vocal merges well with the backing track which includes a neat acoustic guitar solo.

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queen esther, music

The Bluest Crown

Eternal hottie Yul Brynner in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, with costume design by Edith Head.

Once I assembled my Black Americana band for our maiden voyage into the European club and festival circuit this fall, I had to come up with a name. Not just any name. THE name. Tricky stuff and no easy feat: a band name is all-encompassing. It has to sum up the sound and the look and the feel of the group, all in one fell swoop.  I had a black female rhythm section -- bassist Mimi Jones and drummer Shirazette Tinnin. I really wanted to get this right.

Of course, crowns were the first things to pop into my head. Initially I wanted them to be black. But why? And then I remembered an image I saw in bas relief as I drifted through the Egyptian wing at The Met.  I had to sift through photos from Cecil B. DeMille's epic wonder The Ten Commandments before my persistent memory had a chance to collide with my imagination and that one persistent thought.

What I was reaching for was the khepresh, a royal ancient Egyptian headdress.  Unlike costume designer Edith Head's shimmering facsimile above, it was usually made from leather and it was initially worn by New Kingdom pharoahs in battle.

Naming the band The Blue Crowns would effectively be my way of putting that khepresh on my head and readying myself for war. Make no mistake: to be black and to be a woman and to fully understand intersectionality and your place within it means that you are constantly under siege.  To make art that addresses this, art that flies in the face of convention, is something of a battle cry.  It is most certainly percieved of as a threat by the status quo.

Consider this: I'm a black woman, I'm from the South and I'm playing mostly original songs I describe as Black Americana -- what some call Afro Americana -- which is loaded with twang and soul. I think the term Black Americana is an oxymoron. Some people consider it to be anathema.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Whether I'm singing in front of an inattentive audience or auditioning for a tableful of jaded casting agents, it's all a war of attrition.  Thankfully, I've lived in New York City long enough to get really good at this kind of combat. I simply keep showing up and wearing them down with what can only be described as an avalanche of love. Eventually, they cave in and I win.  And then, its on to the next conquest.

This music will be no different. I will literally drown anyone that is against me.
queen esther, music

Queen Esther and The Hot Five at the 10th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party - Saturday, August 15th

It's hard to believe that this little party -- with some 10,000 revelers for the first round in June -- has been going on for 10 years. Where on earth did the time go?

Yes, this is the event of the summer season. Yes, it's gobs of fun. Yes, there will be no general admission tickets sold at the door. Yes, it always sells out -- that's why everyone buys their tickets as early as possible. Yes, it's probably sold out already (and has been for weeks) but you should probably check here.

The Hot Five:
Jesse Gelber, piano
Noah Jackson, double bass
Charles Goold, drums
Alvin Walker, trombone
Seneca Black, trumpet

See you on the Island!

We invite you to toast the passage of Summer with us and celebrate 10 years of the Jazz Age Lawn Party.  With less than two weeks to go, tickets are going fast, but there is still a chance to be part of the fun if you’ve been on the fence! BULLETIN! - We’ve reconfigured our layout, optimizing shady areas under trees just for picnic blankets!
Browse our newly expanded Vintage and Artisan village, including:

  • Carole Amper/Toucan Hats

  • Goorin Bros

  • Wildfell Hall Vintage

  • Grumpy Angel Designs

  • The Original Prohibition Clothing Company

  • Dave's Vintage

  • Zelda Magazine

  • Dora Marra for Headdress NY

  • Noble Savage Vintage

  • Mary Jane Lane

  • Dazzle Me!

  • Art Deco Society of New York

  • Penumbra

Enjoy our new and improved enclave of eats; “TASTY TOWN”; featuring*:

  • Café Dreamland and Lounge – (available to “Bee’s Knees” and “Bonnie and Clyde” package holders)

  • Coco & Co – Fresh, young coconuts!!!

  • Daly Pies – including: Chocolate Guinness, Honey Custard, Salty Lime, Spiced Plum, & Caramel Peach pies by the slice, and a Pie/Sundae Collaboration w/ Ice and Vice – (available to VIP ticket-holders only )

  • Empanada Lady – A taste of old Havana! - Vegetarian, Chicken, and Beef Empanadas

  • Empire Biscuits – Savory and Sweet Southern-Style Biscuit Sandwiches

  • Fire Belly BBQ – The Orient comes to Governors Island! - Korean Barbecue Tacos, Korean Barbecue Burritos, Bibimbap Rice Bowls, Korean Barbecue Nachos

  • Ice & Vice featuring: “Milk Money” (Toasted Milk Ice Cream w/ Sea Salt Chocolate Ganache), Love & Hate (Root Beer Ice Cream w/ Ginger Molasses Soil – wowsers!), Mahjong (Jasmine Tea & White Peach Sorbet), Reverse Root Beer Float (Vanilla Soda w/ Love & Hate Ice Cream) – (available to VIP ticket-holders only )

  • Lobster Joint – New England Lobster Rolls, Lobster Club Rolls, Lobster Sliders, Chips, Coleslaw, Gazpacho

  • Local 215 – Hearty crowd pleasers including: Mac & Cheese, Pork Fritters, Meatballs and more.

  • Perfect Picnic – “Classic Picnic“ - (2 Meats, 2 Cheeses, 2 Waters, Marinated Olives, Jam, 2 Cookies or Caramels, Plates, Cutlery, and complimentary tote) OR “American Picnic” (Water, 2 Baquettini Sandwiches [Goat Cheese & Fig Jam, Serrano Ham & Chives, Salami Cheddar & Arugula, Turkey, Cheddar & Arugula, Cheddar & Chutney, or Smoked Duck with Cherry Jam and Arugula], Small Bag of Chips & a Cookie in a complimentary tote)

  • The Vintage Ice Cream Guys – Line up at the truck, just like when you were a kid! Good Humor Ice Cream Bars and Snow Cones – just don’t get tongue freeze!

*Vendor offerings subject to change
And, of course, the world’s finest Jazz Age music for your dancing pleasure, featuring your host, MICHAEL ARENELLA & HIS DREAMLAND ORCHESTRA, as well as:

  • Queen Esther and Her Hot Five

  • Tamar Korn

  • Molly Ryan

  • Gelber & Manning

And a special thanks to Emmi Roth Cheese, Divina Olives, Trois Petits Cochons Paté, and La Panzanella Crackers for their generous donations:
Tickets and packages are still available for the August 15-16 events. Ticket packages include General Admission,“Jazz Baby, “Bee’s Knees, “Bonnie & Clyde. “The Gatsby” VIP package brings deluxe perks including table and bottle service. These packages can be purchased at www.JazzAgeLawnParty.com. To commemorate the 10th anniversary, the Jazz Age Lawn Party presents “The Sheikh of Araby”, an exclusive private tent for eight to ten guests located right off the dance floor, with full table service and luxury appointments, and which can be reserved by emailing DreamlandVIP@gmail.com
queen esther, music

Holy Blues and Solo Performance

As an artist, the more hats I wear creatively, the more likely it is that I'll stay employed.  A few weeks ago, I auditioned for Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) and their On-Site Performance Program after some time away from the organization.  HAI is a city/state government funded organization that provides art/music to mental health and educational facilities, hospitals, hospices, etc. I initially worked with them when I first came to the city as a jazz/blues vocalist. That's when they were Hospital Audiences Inc.  I would hire my own collective and go into some pretty incredible situations. The gig I did on Riker's Island with a bassist and guitarist -- mostly Billie Holiday's body of work -- will stay with me forever.

This time around, I auditioned as as a solo performer -- just me and my Baby Taylor -- and at the beginning of the month, I found out that I've been accepted to their artist roster.

I'm expanding my repertoire as a performing songwriter to include country gospel and gospel blues -- also called holy blues -- because it's the sound that raised me. I know I'm veering towards it because I miss my people deeply, and I really miss the Lowcountry.   The upshot of it all is that the songs are so straightforward and uncomplicated, I'll be forced to get my guitar chops in order.  And it's inspired a lot of interesting songs that I hope to put into my next album.

During performances, there is an HAI monitor on the premises to assess your work for their files. My first gig  -- 60 minutes of holy blues in the rec room of an elder care/mental outpatient facility deep in the heart of Brooklyn -- happened last week. Here is what they wrote.


Audience Response: Stupendous. This group of residents and staff members overwhelmingly loved this. Tina, a staff person who stood in for Iola; our regular contact, who is currently out on medical leave, highly praised this performance and couldn't thank Queen Esther enough.

Additional Comments: This wasn't the overly produced, swelling, ramped-up, modern gospel that accompanies the ubiquitous Sunday morning, religious radio shows. It was a breathtaking recreation of raw-to-the-bone, plaintive and excruciatingly heartfelt, unadorned, old-time, rural gospel music; the spiritual equivalent of Robert Johnson's worldly, piercing, early delta blues. I personally felt transported to some unassuming, rustic, backwoods, Black American church of the 1930's. Queen Esther's relation to this music through her background, (born and raised in South Carolina), and innate, exquisite sensibility, was evident, as she spoke between songs, probing the audience's
knowledge of the music, while filling in a bit of the not-widely-known history of this vital and uniquely American art form. This was a beautiful, artistic and daring performance.
queen esther, music

TONIGHT'S GIG: JC Hopkins Combo w/Queen Esther + Charles Turner -- and Hugh Masekela -- at Minton's!

Join JC Hopkins Biggish Band for a very special evening featuring revered South African trumpeter HUGH MASEKELA on Wednesday, October 15th at 7pm. The band will be pared down this week to accommodate Masekela and includes vocalists Queen Esther and Charles Turner, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and Julian Pressley on reeds, King Solomon Hicks on guitar, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Shirazette Tinnin. Masekela joins the bandstand with his long-time brethren of over 50 years, incomparable pianist, LARRY WILLIS and one of the early pioneers of Cape Jazz and founder of SafroJazz, MORRIS GOLDBERG, plus his continuing inspiration for Sony recording artist who has called Masekela her mentor since childhood, SOMI.
queen esther, music

Queen Esther's Black Americana Album "The Other Side": The Country Music People Review

FYI: This review appears in the October 2014 issue of London, England's Country Music People. Thank you for reading this version.


QUEEN ESTHER/The Other Side (five stars)

Sunnyland / I’ve Come Undone Again / Jet Airliner / Oh Sun / Sadness Everlasting / Somebody Else’s Baby / Will You Or Won’t You / My Big Iron Skillet / The Other Sde / Love Is A Wrecking Ball / I Feel Like Going Home / I’ve Come Undone Again, version 2 / Jet Airliner [The Black Americana Version]

Producer: Queen Esther, EL Recordings 52:35

Secrets do have a way of leaking out, and one that desperately needs to be heard is Americana/country/ jazz singer, Queen Esther. The very talented songwriter has a superb old school soulful voice, which years ago would probably have taken her high into the charts. Queen Esther began her career in 2004 with Talkin’ Fishbowl Blues, a neat mix of blues and country, which ended with an interesting version of Tammy Wynette’s classic Stand By Your Man. In 2010 Queen Esther climbed on another horse, jazz, which resulted in another fine CD, What Is Love? Now we have Queen Esther’s most country album, The Other Side, which contains some stunning traditional country, a dash of country/blues and some well selected cover versions. Every song is sung with passion and fire, by this underrated female singer who should be a musical giant.

Opening delight, Sunnyland, begins as an acoustic country/blues song, but then becomes more upbeat as the electric guitar bursts in. Queen Esther’s wonderful vocal has hints of her gospel and church roots in the south of the USA. The country tracks start with the incredible heartbreaker, I’ve Come Undone Again, an original song. Queen Esther’s vocal and her songwriting skills on this track indicate strongly that this is where she should be. The CD’s best country song is touched with old school genius; Sadness Everlasting would have been perfect for George Jones.  Queen Esther’s knowing vocal, which has a touch of sadness, is perfection, with a superb steel guitar solo as well. For me, this track is one of the best traditional country songs of the decade so far. Not far behind it is another traditional gem, Somebody Else’s Baby, which would have been a good song for Connie Smith to tackle.

Queen Esther’s amazing CD includes several cover versions, all of them high quality songs. The Steve Miller Band’s 1977 hit, Jet Airliner, which was originally written in 1973 by Paul Pena, emerges as a blazing blues/rock song. Queen Esther attacks this foot-tapper with great gusto. The Queen also does a strong version of Wanda Jackson’s My Big Iron Skillet, which dates back to 1969. Heard in 2014 the song sounds almost like a feminist anthem, with Queen Esther sounding like she understands the dark drama of this underrated track.

Other highlights are the country/gospel of The Other Side, and the acoustic country/blues song Love Is A Wrecking Ball. The album winds down beautifully with a killer version of the old Charlie Rich song I Feel Like Going Home. It’s a brave singer, who tackles one of Charlie Rich’s most perfect songs, but the new version also hits the target, with Queen Esther’s passionate vocal set to move anyone who hears it. The simple piano backing track, with Queen Esther’s emotional vocal is a dream end to a disc which has no faults.

So the secret is out, Queen Esther is a major talent in several area’s, but her greatest talent is as a writer and singer of the more traditional country song. Hopefully this is the road she is planning to travel down for many years. The Other Side is a major work, by a vital, important artist who has been ignored for too long, hopefully now is Queen Esther time.  -- Paul Riley
queen esther, music

TONIGHT'S GIG: JC Hopkins' Biggish Band featuring Queen Esther and Charles Turner at Minton's!

Since May of this year, I've been in residency in Harlem every Wednesday at Minton's -- the place where be-bop was born -- with JC Hopkins' Biggish Band. Thanks to businessman Richard Parsons and noted chef/restauranteur Alexander Smalls, this legendary establishment has been revitalized and is now the epicenter of what many consider to be a resurgence of new jazz in the city.

It has been an absolute privilege to sing and perform in a space where so many revered musicians and vocalists have shined so brightly.  I am humbled to share the stage with so many gifted musicians that compel me to go further than I ever thought I would vocally.  All of that soloing from so many horns for so long has bent my ears in all the right ways.  There's no going back now.

I'll be at Minton's tonight with the band, along with vocalist Charles Turner, starting at 7pm. For more information, click here.

In the meantime, here's a slice of all of us, in action: J. Walter Hawkes the trombonist, accompanying me on ukulele with this timeless classic I Cover The Waterfront.

queen esther, music

Everything Starts Right Now

I got my new Black Americana album -- The Other Side -- this afternoon. I've been working on this music off and on and on and on for so long, it's kind of embarassing. Finishing it is the culmination of so much that when it finally got to my living room, I was so overwhelmed, I simply sat quietly and let this overwhelming sense of gratitude ooze its way out of my soul until all i could feel was pure joy. I didn't play guitar on this one (that's what's next!) but I did produce it and aside from three covers, I wrote the songs.  How this album came together is something of a blur. Pinching off of paychecks and tax returns. Calling in all kinds of favors. Bartering vocals for more studio time. Turning myself into a generic wedding singer. Whatever it took, within reason. And finally -- finally! -- it's finished.

All month long, it felt like Christmas Eve. And now here I sit, stuffing envelopes to send out a little of that "holiday" magic to the initial few -- the musicians who worked on it, my consiglieri Garry Veletri and long time loved ones in Texas and beyond.  It'll take a few weeks to get it up on CDBaby and all over the place digitally, which is why the official release date is May 1st.  The PR/radio push starts in April so there probably won't be any reviews in print until July or August, if I get any reviews at all.  But no matter. I finished it. Thank God Almighty, I finished it. The fact that it's done is so overwhelming, I'm not even remotely freaked out about anything else.

While I was woodshedding and spring cleaning waiting for the UPS guy today, I couldn't stop thinking about JefLee Johnson and this particular song -- because everything really does start right now.  It almost feels like he was telling me this as a statement of fact.

I've got a fantastic publicist and a radio promoter. I'm hyped, I'm ready. Let the games begin.

Oh - and if you'd like to hear what it sounds like, please click here.