Irma Thomas gets love back from her fans at 30th Mother’s Day concert

Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, reigned over an enthusiastic crowd Sunday when she took to the stage for the 30th anniversary of Mother’s Day at the Audubon Zoo.

Before Thomas performed, she was presented with 30 pink roses in honor of the years she has entertained for Mother’s Day at the zoo. She was also given two oversized Mother’s Day cards signed by fans earlier in the afternoon.

“We cannot express in words what you mean to us,” said Chimene Grant, vice president of marketing for the Audubon Nature Institute.

Grant said Thomas has been at the zoo without fail for 30 years, giving up her Mother’s Day to share it with the people who love her.

Thomas said she was “accepting these roses for all of these moms who have found it in their hearts to spend Mother’s Day with me for the past 30 years. I say thank you!”

And the crowd thanked her right back. Their notes of love and affection filled two sides of both cards, which sat at a booth in the festival area before the afternoon performance.

“We have kids signing who have no idea who Irma Thomas is, and we have people who have been coming here for 30 years” to hear a New Orleans legend, said Valerie Robinson, who was stationed at the greeting card booth.

The cards were filled with notes such as: “Thanks for the memories,” “Thanks for 30 years,” “Love you!” “Thanks for a great Mother’s Day every year.” “We love you, you are wonderful.” Thomas said she wasn’t sure how she would hang the cards up so she could see both sides, but Grant assured her: “We’ll figure something out.”

The Mother’s Day event drew an estimated 10,000 people to the zoo. L. Ronald Forman, president and chief executive officer of the Audubon Nature Institute, was director of the Audubon Zoo when he came up with the idea of staging a Mother’s Day event, hoping to draw families to the zoo.

And draw families it always does, ranking as the zoo’s largest single-day attendance. There were young, old and in-between Sunday, perusing the jewelry and crafts, sampling the food and drink and wandering through 55 acres of animal exhibits.

There were an array of baby strollers and toddler-packed wagons, some of them pushed by first-timers to the Mother’s Day event and many of them handled by veterans of the Irma Thomas tradition.

Among the first-timers to the Mother’s Day event was Wayne Toyes, of New Orleans, who was with his daughter Aimee Anthony and her family. “So far, it’s been great,” he said. “You couldn’t get a better day. The weather’s beautiful. And Irma Thomas, she’s naturally New Orleans.”

It was definitely a New Orleans kind of day, full of food, music, family and lots of fun. Melina Warren was there to enjoy “great music, the culture and to be able to come out and listen” to a legend named Irma Thomas.

There was no shortage of Thomas fans on hand. Donna Collins was there with her adult daughters Alison and Raquel Moore.

“I used to bring them when they were younger,” she said. And then they got older and didn’t always want to go with Mom to the zoo. “But today, they wanted to be with their mom.”

They were planning to meet Collins’ sisters at the stage and listen to one of their New Orleans favorites sing songs old and new.

As for Irma Thomas, she was happy to entertain — “But,’’ she said, “those 30 years went by so quick!”