5 Things You Might Not Know About Carla Thomas
Gee whiz, is it Carla Thomas’s birthday again already? To celebrate the day this classic R&B artist first entered the world we’ve put together a list of 5 facts about Ms. Thomas that might have flown under your radar. And, no, “her dad was Rufus Thomas” isn’t on here. Give us a little credit, huh?
1. She was in the same high school singing group as Isaac Hayes, but they made her a member long before she ever got to high school.
The Memphis radio station WDIA served as the sponsor of a rotating high school musical group called the Teen Town Singers, one which claimed both Isaac Hayes and Anita Louis as members. Because her dad was a DJ for the station, Carla ended up becoming a member when she was all of 10 years old, and even though it was a pretty exhausting schedule for a kid of her age, she loved the experience and remained a member through her senior year of high school.
2. Her decision to move in more of a Southern Soul direction was one borne out of an attempt to find more success.
Carla’s first big hit was “Gee Whiz,” a song with a sound that was very much tied to her personal musical sensibilities, and if she’d had her druthers, she probably would’ve continued in that direction for the long haul. In an effort to score more hits, however, she ended up tweaking her sound to favor the more popular strain of R&B for the era.
3. Her backing band was called The Mar-Keys, but that wasn’t their original name.
The group was originally known as The Royal Spades, but per Robert Gordon, Estelle Axton of Satellite Records forced them to change their name because “all-white kids playing black music and calling themselves The Royal Spades just wasn’t going to play.”
4. For her last Stax Records album, she covered The Association’s “Cherish.”
Actually, this isn’t the hardest thing in the world to believe when you consider how many covers of “Cherish” there are in existence, but hers is one that hasn’t gotten nearly enough acknowledgment over the years.
5. She was part of the Wattstax Festival.
Organized by Stax Records in commemoration of the 1965 riots in Watts, Los Angeles, the festival took place on August 20, 1972 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Jesse Jackson, Melvin Van Peebles, and Fred Williamson made appearances, and others on the bill included the Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd, the Bar-Kays, Albert King, Rufus Thomas, and – to close out the evening – Isaac Hayes. A documentary was subsequently released in 1974, directed by Mel Stuart, whose other credits include – of all things – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
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