A Queen Visits Southampton

Queen Esther Marrow has performed for Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton; Pope John Paul II, and in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s World Crusade
Queen Esther Marrow will launch her “Here’s to Life” tour tomorrow. Thommy Mardo

After graduating from high school, Queen Esther Marrow moved from Virginia to New York City, where she lived with an aunt and worked in the garment district. Three years later, at 22, she found herself in Duke Ellington’s living room, auditioning for him. 

Recalling that day in her blog, Ms. Marrow said, “I was a bag of nerves from the time I started to the time I closed my mouth with the last word.” Though he maintained a poker face while she sang, it wasn’t long before the Duke asked her to perform “Come Sunday” and “The 23rd Psalm” during his 1965 Sacred Concert at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. 

A singular career followed. Ms. Marrow has performed for Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton; Pope John Paul II, and in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s World Crusade, a series of civil rights rallies that also included Jesse Jackson, Sidney Poirier, and Dr. Ralph Abernathy. Her next stop is the Southampton Cultural Center, where she will launch her “Here’s to Life” tour tomorrow evening at 7.

Ms. Marrow has spent much of the last 25 years performing with the Harlem Gospel Singers, a group she formed in 1992 in concert with BB Productions, a German concert producer. The group performed primarily in Europe and recently concluded its farewell tour. Of one of its final shows, in Luxembourg at the Grand Theatre, the reviewer Erik Abbott wrote, “And my-oh-my, did the stately hall swing and rock.”

“Going forward I will be doing solo performances,” she said during a recent telephone conversation. “Southampton is the first stop on the tour, and I’m also in the studio recording, so I’ve got a lot of things I’m doing and want to do. Don’t get me wrong. I love working in Europe, and I love the people there, they are really so warm and kind. But I haven’t been working and singing to the people here in the United States. It is my home, so I want to do that.”

The show will reflect the entire range of her music, with gospel, blues, soul, and jazz, including “Here’s to Life,” “Nice and Easy,” and “Bright Side of the Road,” among many other songs. She will be accompanied on saxophone, bass, and drums.

Before the Harlem Gospel Singers formed, Ms. Marrow worked in concerts, clubs, and on Broadway, where, in 1990, she wrote and starred in “Truly Blessed,” a musical about Mahalia Jackson, her idol and one of the many iconic figures with whom she has shared the stage. Others include Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, and Lena Horne. 

While Ms. Marrow works out of New York City, she recently moved back to her home in Virginia, where, she said, she can experience “a quietness, compared to New York” and a break from the tour, which will span the United States.

Almost two years ago to the day, she experienced “one of my most memorable moments,” participating in the re-making of the Sacred Concert on its 50th anniversary. “That was a full-circle moment for me, as I was able to stand in the Grace Cathedral and reflect on how far God has brought me since I stood in that very spot 50 years ago.”

Tickets to the concert are $25, $15 for students under 21, and can be purchased at scc-arts.org.