Leigh “Li’l Queenie” Harris
Our dear friend, musical warrior is fighting cancer at her home in
Thanks to the superhuman efforts of our old and comrade, Lenny Zenith,
Mastering engineer Mike Hogan, and all involved musicians, Leigh’s last recording, “Purple Heart”, submerged in the Hurricane Katrina floods has been resurrected, and is being released. The record features brilliant performances from Leigh and a stellar cast of NOLA musicians. All proceeds go directly to her.
Please show your support for our musical icon and treasure.
Watch this space for benefit/tribute concert info
David Robinson’s review of “Purple Heart”
Leigh "Lil Queenie" Harris is an icon amongst the old guard of New Orleans music lovers. At Tipitina's, there's a picture of her and her first notable band "Little Queenie and the Percolators" on the left wall near the stage, as well as a vintage concert poster on the rafter between the balconies.
While she never exploded on the national scene in the way many feel she should have, she's had some claims to fame and has collaborated with many big names (Sun Ra, Elvis Costello, BB King, etc.). A glowing write-up in the New York Times once compared her to Janis Joplin, a comparison she always rejected, though she later took a gig as one of the singers in a Janis tribute show in Central Park for big bucks, an event which was ironically covered and mostly panned by the NYT.
She had a house on Mystery Street, blocks away from where she and a large rotating ensemble of musicians would do their big show every year at Jazz Fest. A lot of that neighborhood was destroyed by Katrina, and although her house was still standing, she immediately moved to rural North Carolina never to return again permanently.
Last year, Queenie was diagnosed with breast cancer, which has metastasized. Last month, she was moved into hospice care. She's been on chemo, living off Medicaid, and there have been various fundraisers to help with her medical expenses.
This unearthed album, "Purple Heart”, was recorded in the weeks leading up to Katrina in a studio that was flooded by the storm. It was never formally released until now, thanks to mastering and label support from her longtime friends, Lenny Zenith and Mike Hogan.
Like a Queenie gig at Jazz Fest, it features a large rotating cast of Louisiana musicians - swamp pop legend CC Adcock and Jimmy Robinson (Woodenhead/Twangorama) on guitars, session musicians like Lawrence "Larry" Sieberth on piano and Doug Belote and Jeff Boudreaux on drums. Her son, Alex Harris McDonald, plays washboards on some of the tracks, taking a break from the musical trenches of Bourbon Street. Many others contributed performances, some uncredited as information from this period is hazy.
The first track is a remake of her 1978 Percolators hit, "My Darlin' New Orleans", complete with a new spoken word/rap intro. (The original version can be found on the "Big Box Of New Orleans" compilation that is re-added to the local merits every Mardi Gras.) "Stay" is a David Bowie cover.
"Knows His Way Around" is an original for this album and is filled with hilarious innuendo. "Down Home Girl" is a cover of an R&B standard originally recorded by New Orleans singer Alvin Robinson, but later made more famous by Rolling Stones, Taj Mahal etc.
While themes on this album might strike a first time listener as stereotypical New Orleans stuff, they are every bit as authentic as those of her contemporary Dr. John, who has written songs specifically for Queenie to sing.