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Mon, 03.26.1917

Rufus Thomas, Singer born

Rufus Thomas

*On this date, Rufus Thomas was born in 1917. He was a Black singer and songwriter.

From Cayce, Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper moved with his family to Memphis at an early age.  By age ten, Thomas was singing and tap-dancing in amateur shows. After high school, he traveled through the south with the Rabbit Foot Minstrel Show but left the road when he had his own family to support and began working in a textile bleaching mill and tending boilers.   In time, Thomas could use his weekends to host the amateur night at the Palace and Handy theaters in Memphis; places where Johnny Ace, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, and others would show up.

In 1943, Thomas recorded his first hit; I’ll Be Good Boy, for the Star-Talent label. In 1948, a failing white-owned radio station, WDIA, began catering more to an increasingly Black audience with (among others) Rufus Thomas behind the microphone. He played recordings that were not well known, broke records locally, and had a great on-air presence. Some of Thomas’ many recordings are: Bear Cat (1952), Cause I Love You (with his daughter Carla Thomas) (1953), Walking the Dog (1960), Do the Funky Chicken (1970), and Do the Funky Penguin (1972). In 1989, he had a cameo role in the movie Mystery Train and continued to tour.

In 1998, he had triple bypass surgery, and Rufus Thomas died of heart failure in December 2001.

To Become a Musician or Singer


Memphis Music


ASCAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
ISBN 0-8351-1283-1

Heart & Soul
A Celebration of Black Music Style in America 1930-1975
by Merlis Davin Seay, Forward by Etta James
Copyright 2002, Billboard Books
ISBN 0-8230-8314-4

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