Queen Esther grew up as the middle child and the only daughter in the semi-rural environs of the Deep South with six brothers, a four-octave range and an IQ that set her firmly in the gifted program for English and creative writing as a five year old. While attending a prestigious performing arts high school in Atlanta GA, she thrived in citywide productions (Bernstein’s MASS with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra) the Governor’s Honors Program (Drama), and competed for and won several scholarships in theater via ARTS Recognition and Talent Search (sponsored by the National Foundation for the Arts). As luck would have it, she chose the University of Texas and exploded in the local music scene in Austin as a member of Ro-Tel and the Hot Tomatoes, a regional favorite specializing in girl group music that began as a gag in the infamous local comedy/theater troupe Esther’s Follies.
It was guitarist “Big Al” Gilhausen who introduced her to the legendary blues guitar icon Hubert Sumlin. Because of his immediate influence, she lost herself in the blues and found her way back to her country gospel roots. This, along with a childhood of free-form radio on the airwaves, augmented by a steady diet of Hee-Haw, The Lawrence Welk Show and Soul Train – and the overwhelming presence of the rural sanctified black church, filled with sacred steel – solidified her Black Americana sound.
Queen Esther relocated to New York City, finished a BA from The New School (Screenwriting) and flourished in the alt-music/alt-theater scene. Her work as a vocalist, lyricist, songwriter, actor/solo performer and playwright/librettist led to creative collaborations in neo-vaudeville, alt-theater, various alt-rock configurations, (neo) swing bands, trip hop DJs, spoken word performances, jazz combos, jam bands, various blues configurations, original Off Broadway plays and musicals, experimental music/art noise and performance art. After forming the critically acclaimed avant-blues duo Hoosegow (Mighty/Homestead) with guitarrorist Elliot Sharp, she beat out more than 6,000 hopefuls to land a plumb role in the original cast of the first national tour of the Broadway musical RENT. While on tour, she started her own label (EL Recordings) and continued to develop her ideas, irregardless of genre.
While fermenting her sound, Queen Esther recorded and performed with Grammy Award-nominated composer/pianist JC Hopkins’ Biggish Band, recorded and toured internationally with jazz guitar icon James “Blood” Ulmer as frontperson for his trio Blues Experience Raw and garnered a publishing deal with Bug Music. Her vocals and songwriting are a strong presence on Mr. Ulmer’s black-folk album Blues & Grass: The 52nd St. Blues Project (Chesky). All Music Guide says: “(But) as great as (Blues & Grass) is, Ulmer fans have heard much of this music before; the real revelation on this album is Queen Esther, whose uplifting songs and great singing are definite highlights on a consistently strong album. Just see if you can get ‘Sunnyland’ or ‘I’m Goin’ out of your head at the end of the disc.”
She released Talkin’ Fishbowl Blues, her debut album of Black Americana to much critical acclaim. “You’ll have to set your preconceptions aside for this one. Queen Esther is active in the theater and performance art worlds, sings the blues, sings jazz with the JC Hopkins Biggish Band and now has offered up a great Rock and Roll album. Is there anything this woman can’t do?” (4 out of 5 stars) — All Music Guide
Career highlights include: a special 2002 Drama Desk Award to Tribeca Playhouse for their production of Queen Esther’s Stagedoor Canteen, a weekly hour-long USO-style variety show that welcomed Broadway performers and showfolk to entertain the Ground Zero relief workers for free; a 2002 AUDELCO-award nomination for her star turn in George C. Wolfe’s new musical Harlem Song; the 2008 Grand Prize in the Jazzmobile Jazz Vocal Competition; headlining at The Apollo Theater with her self-penned musical The Billie Holiday Project, featuring her jazz quintet The Hot Five.
Queen Esther continues to tour internationally with Mr. Ulmer in various configurations, including The Black Rock Experience (with drummer G. Calvin Weston and bassist Mark Petersen) and Odyssey (with drummer Warren Benbow and violinist Charles Burnham), as well as her own projects.