tour spotlight By Andy Argyrakis hit the road Irma Thomas tribute to Mahalia Jackson JAzz & heritAge FestivAl/New orleANs, lA FridAy, April 23, 2010 The summer concert season is officially up and running now that New Orleans kicked off its annual Jazz & Heritage Festival. Not only has this Crescent City tradition endured throughout changing musical fads and natural disasters, but it continues to flourish thanks to a well-balanced mixture of local luminaries with the top names like co- headliners Lionel Richie and Simon & Garfunkel, plus plenty of inspirational appeal thanks to hometown hero Irma Thomas, who turned in a spry set paying exclusive tribute to the late gospel great Mahalia Jackson. After offering up a dedication to volunteers who’ve helped displaced residents as a result of Hurricane Katrina move back home, the spiritually-centered soul star performed more than an hour’s worth of that pioneer’s most famous material, whose fingerprints can literally be traced throughout countless urban, gospel, R&B and even pop performers. Despite Jackson’s rise to fame from the late 1920s through the civil rights movement, the 69-year-old Thomas slapped a fresh coat of musical paint on golden oldies like “I Found the Answer,” while the redemptive message remains increasingly relevant after all these years. Regardless of one’s beliefs throughout the diverse audience, everyone sang along to “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” which may be one of the most simplistic Sunday school songs of all time, but is anchored in timeless truths particularly pertinent to today’s troublesome economic times. But no matter what the song or the moving lyrics packed therein, Thomas aptly recalled Jackson’s revered spirituals and cast a celebratory spotlight on an immeasurably influential artist who may be long gone, but will never be forgotten. 16 CCM