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‘A 40-minute neo-soul-gospel-themed jam session’

  • Written by Dorothy Bracy Alston

Vaneese Thomas did not hesitate. Asked the one thing she would like Memphians to know about her, Thomas replied, “That I exist.”  by Dorothy Bracy Alston
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Vaneese Thomas did not hesitate. Asked the one thing she would like Memphians to know about her, Thomas replied, “That I exist.”

 Savoyd Beard (on saxophone) found the perfect vocal accompaniment in Vaneese Thomas. (Photo by Tyrone P. Easley)

Thomas – daughter of Stax legend Rufus Thomas and sister of soul sensation Carla Thomas – fielded a few questions last Sunday (June 19) during a Youth Department benefit performance for Middle Baptist Church’s, where the Rev. Robert L. Mason is pastor.

“Few people knew about me,” recalls Thomas, who was born and raised in Memphis, graduating from Hamilton High School.

After graduating from college with a major in French, Thomas lived in Philadelphia and taught social studies and French in New Jersey.

“In 1982, while living in Westchester County, New York, I got my big break in professional music when I auditioned for a band called Colors, a group who recorded for a CBS recording company,” said Thomas.

Even though Thomas’ three-decade old career has landed her on the platform with musical greats such as Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross, and netted her current touring gig as back-up artist for Aretha Franklin, her journey was not without its setbacks. She recalls, as a budding artist, not getting paid for a big job because someone ran off with the money.

Thomas said she got some lucky breaks while working with a jazz fusion band called Night Sprite in the early 80’s. It was during this time that a combination of fusing live work and studio work was “the velvet glove to a successful jingles career” doing radio and television commercials. That, she said, is how Valerie Simpson of the famed Ashford and Simpson and Vandross started.

These days, Thomas stays busy doing what she loves – music, and figuring out how to keep the Thomas music legacy alive. She still finds time to write, play keyboard, record, sing as both a lead and back-up artist, and sing in her church choir, the First United Methodist Church of Stanford, Conn., where she once served as minister of music.

“It has taken me a long time to embrace my legacy, but I have finally fully embraced it and now I intend to let folk know about the rich heritage of our blues singers and the heritage of our rock and roll,” said Thomas. “I want to impart to both the young and old generation of this rich heritage, so that it stays alive.”


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