Wanda Jackson and Imelda May -July 27th, 2011 – By Bill Kelly
When Wanda Jackson declared Imelda May as the next “Queen of Rockabilly”, no one in the crowd doubted her credibility. As the first female “rock star”, confidant of Elvis and first American to make it “big in Japan”, Jackson was just finishing up a rousing set featuring old hits (Fujiyama Mama) and songs from her new collaboration with Jack White, “The Party Ain’t Over”.
The concert, part of the continuing SummerStage series of free concerts hosted by the NYC Parks Foundation , brought a large, trans-generational crowd out under a clear, star and skyscraper lit Manhattan night. According to Sin Hom, Marketing and Communications Director at the Parks Foundation, SummerStage, celebrating its 26th year, brings music, dance and film events to over 250,000 New Yorkers every year. Sponsored by corporate grants and benefits concerts, the shows have raised awareness of the parks system and helped reclaim long neglected public spaces.
Opening the concert, the Dublin-born May clearly demonstrated why she has been recognized by luminaries such as Jeff Beck and fans alike as a bona fide rockabilly star. Swinging, crooning and stomping, supported by a band featuring husband Darrel Higham on guitar, May ran through songs from her recent release, “Mayhem” and earlier releases, including the old 80’s Soft Cell hit, “Tainted Love”. May’s presence is undeniable, clearly enjoying every note she sings.
It’s pretty remarkable that these two women, born generations and continents apart, were able to make relevant a musical genre with roots in the Memphis of Elvis and Jerry Lee. As one young Manhattan concert goer remarked on the way out, “Now that’s Rock N Roll”.