Spotlight: Carla Thomas

Sanders Soundstage

To celebrate GRAMMY® Week 2023, GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi is thrilled to welcome Carla Thomas to the Sanders Soundstage for a small performance and conversation about her career.

Tickets are FREE for Museum Members and $15 for Non-Members.


Carla Thomas is a 2X GRAMMY® nominated American singer, who is often referred to as the Queen of Memphis Soul. She is best known for her 1960s recordings for Atlantic and Stax including the hits "Gee Whiz", "B-A-B-Y" and "Tramp", a duet with Otis Redding. She is the daughter of Rufus Thomas. Carla trained her entire life for a career in entertainment. She grew up just a few blocks from Beale Street where her father, Rufus, was the emcee at the Palace Theatre for what became the world’s most famous blues talent showcase. Carla often accompanied her father at the Palace and developed her musical styling as she heard a range of blues from Bobby Bland to B.B. King. At the age of 10, Carla joined WDIA Radio’s Teen Town Singers even though 14 was the age requirement. At one time, Isaac Hayes and Anita Louis (Soul Children) were also part of the rotating musical unit, but Carla stayed with the group until her senior year in high school. At the age of 16 she wrote the song that propelled her into the international spotlight, “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes).” It became her signature song reaching Top 10 on the pop chart, Top 5 on the R&B chart, and gained her a performance on American Bandstand. Another chart topper followed in 1966 with “B-A-B-Y”. Carla’s songs hit the national charts more than 20 times with singles like “Let Me Be Good to You,” “I Like What You're Doing to Me,” “I’ve Got No Time to Lose,” “A Love of My Own,” and the Sam Cooke answer song, “I'll Bring It on Home to You.” In 1967 she recorded the LP King & Queen with Otis Redding. The album of duets featured soul favorites like “Tell It Like It Is” and “Bring it on Home,” but the stand out single was their witty playfulness on Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp.” In between recording and performing, she found time to gain her undergraduate degree from Tennessee State University. Carla then continued studies at Howard University with classmates Roberta Flack, Donnie Hathaway, and Harold Wheeler. Carla Thomas was a star at the historic, label-sponsored WATTSTAX concert in Los Angeles, California. Carla embraced the 100,000 plus audience with “Pick Up the Pieces,” “Gee Whiz,” and the soul-stirring “I Have A God Who Loves.” In 1967 she embarked on the now famous European tour of the Stax/Volt Revue which featured many of the label’s stars including Otis Redding, William Bell and Booker T. & the MGs. Carla Thomas has been featured in a number of reissues, most notably a 1994 compilation of her greatest hits and a 2002 live recording from a Memphis performance. However 2007 brought the release of Live at the Bohemian Caverns, recorded in 1967 at the famed Washington, D.C. jazz hotspot, featuring an all-star band led by Donny Hathaway. The Bohemian Caverns performance was Carla’s brainchild to demonstrate that her vocal dexterity could not be confined to Soul music. It reveals Carla’s affection for pop and jazz as she deftly worked out standards made famous by the likes of Irving Berlin, Johnny Mathis, Billie Holliday, Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. Carla Thomas has an undeniable role in the Memphis music story but she also made an indelible mark on music history.

For more information about Carla Thomas CLICK HERE

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