It’s hard to stand still when Queen Esther takes the stage, but we managed to sit down with this NYC-based vocalist to talk about her life in the city, what inspires her music, and some of her favorite scents. Raised in the Deep South, Queen has since traded the sweet smell of wisteria and honeysuckle for the savory wafts of city street meat, but from the sound of it, she’d have it no other way.
If you’re headed to the Jazz Age Lawn Party this weekend (14-16 August), she’ll be performing on Saturday the 15th. Read on for a little behind-the-scenes look, sound and smell of Queen!
Queen Esther , Vocalist-Actor-Songwriter-Musician
What makes you happy to call Harlem your new home?
I am living my dream.
When did you know you wanted to become a singer?
When I couldn’t find work as an actor.
How might you describe your style?
When I get dressed? Drum magazine pin up meets Seydou Keita/Malick Sidibe party girl, definitely. I mix up Byron Lars, Tracey Reese, vintage from the 30s & 40s, African fabrics and silver jewelry. When I sing? Well, here’s what someone said about my last Black Americana album ‘The Other Side’ that describes my sound perfectly:
“This album is amazing. And very difficult to classify. Can you imagine a black Lucinda Williams? Not like when she plays the blues torn from her first albums, no. A black Lucinda Williams in pop, rhythm, blues and even gender roots Americana. So it sounds, if you can imagine such a hodgepodge somehow, the latest album from this brutal, original, explosive singer.” — El Descodificador, Vanity Fair (Spain)
Name a Few Musical Inspirations.
Andre Crouch, Hubert Sumlin, Dolly Parton, Donny Hathaway, Leon Russell, James”Blood” Ulmer and of course, Edwin and Walter Hawkins
What’s your favorite number to perform lately?
My favorite number is definitely my newest song.
What’s a song you’re dying to cover?
‘Lay Down’ by Melanie — and you wouldn’t be surprised if you knew me (wink).
Your Next Dream Tour City:
Anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Because, quiet as its kept, Africans love country music. I’d love to be the one that they embrace.
You wear a lot of fabulous floral accessories, what’s your favorite flower?
My favorite flower is a palmetto rose, which isn’t really a flower at all. At least, not in the conventional sense…!
We noticed your signature scent immediately! Tell us about it.
Kiehl’s Love Musk. It’s intoxicating. Its scent changes radically from person to person, so both of us can wear it and it will be two completely different scents. I love it because it’s a magic elixir that’s meant to make anyone that smells it on you fall in love with you. I wear it when I sing because I want the audience to love me. And they do.
Let’s do a little scent-song association. For example ‘ll give you a scent, you give me a song. For example, Pasty Cline’s ‘Crazy’ is salted caramel, teary and smooth.
Black Cherry Seltzer: Tom Petty – Into The Great Wide Open
Warm Blueberry Pie: – e. – Beautiful Freak
A Bouquet of White Lilies: Florence Quivar – Witness
City Sidewalks After a Summer Rain: Walter Hawkins and the Love Alive choir – Oh, Happy Day
Barbecue Smoke: James Brown – Talkin’ Loud and Saying Nothin’
Margarita on the rocks with fresh-squeezed lime: John Coltrane – I Want To Talk About You
Where can we go to hear you / see you perform?
I’ll be at Rockwood Music Hall for WFUV’s On The Radar Series with my band The Blue Crowns on July 14th. For tickets here.
If Black Americana isn’t your thing, I’ll be at Gin Fizz Lounge on Friday, August 7th and Minton’s Harlem on the last two Sundays in July (19th and 26th) and every Tuesday in August with the ever-popular Queen Esther Sings Billie Holiday: The Rare Sides. Please check my website for details.