THOMAS Blanche 1964

This post is is a must have !!! Blanche Thomas was a very, very great blues singer who performed primarily with New Orleans traditional jazz groups. She played with many of the greats who would later make their names in the Preservation Hall scene. This LP "Am I Blue", was released on the Nobility label, a small New Orleans label that put out many great traditional local jazz before the days of Preservation Hall. Blanche Thomas, for some reason, hasn't achieved the acclaim of a few other local singers, which is a pity. With her deep, resonant and throaty voice and great stage presence, she rightfully made a big hit with the audience.

Blanche Thomas was born October 15, 1922 in Orleans Parish in New Orleans and she grew up singing. Her father, Sam Thomas, was a musician. According to Blanche, in "the early days", he played bass and trumpet with Kid Howard and Jim Robinson. Her mother was Malvina Stripling.
On 235 South Rampart Street in New Orleans in the early thirties was the Tick Tock Roof Garden (or the Tick Tock), later to feature Lizzie Miles and Ella Fitzgerald among its headliners. Blanche made her first public appearance at the Tick Tock, in the Kiddies Revue when she was 14 years old. The depression was an important factor in people's lives as Blanche grew up. While still in school she was a part-time waitress at the Pelican, listening to the music every night and waiting for her chance. The Pelican was just down the street from the Tick Tock. Her first big audience was when she sang at a USO engagement in a concentration camp in Texas, before 500 Japanese inmates. In the middle of the 40s she also toured with Dodison's World Circus working tent shows in the south. As the war went on and on BT came back to New Orleans and settled down, working the night clubs with groups including Alvin Alcorn, Louis Cottrell, Joe Robichaux, Sidney Desvinge, Dave Bartholomew etc.
When Blanche finally left school she sang at the Club Bali at 426 Bourbon St. with the guitar player Adam Lambert's Six Brown Cats. Club Bali burned to the ground during her engagement there and all the musicians lost all their instruments.
On the third of July 1954 Blanche made her debut as a recording artist, for the IMPERIAL label, having Dave Bartholomew's band to back her. Blanche Thomas' recording of "You Ain't So Such A Much" was unusual, because there were no brass or saxophones involved, only Blanche plus the guitarist Ernest McLean and a rhythm section. The other song on the 78 was the Ed Frank song "Not The Way That I Love You". At the time, Thomas was the vocalist in Bartholomew's band at the Dew Drop Inn at 2840 La Salle Street. The uptown Dew Drop Inn was more than just an all black night club, it was also a Mecca for the younger musicians in the Crescent City during the 40s, 50s up to the early 60s. The Restaurant was known all along the circuit the black musicians travelled. There were two major clubs in New Orleans [during the early 50s], and they were the Dew Drop and the Tijuana. The Dew Drop was the up-marked place -it had a night-club atmosphere. People would dress. In fact there was a time when the owner didn't allow you to enter unless you were properly dressed. This was such a different era, in that era people dressed all the time, they were not wild, but they were a groovy crowd and they understood what was going on. The shows were terrific -it was all day and an' all night thing, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, after that they would rest, but that weekend was terrifying, it was around the clock, it was grind, there was no resting. You started at 12 midnight, and you were supposed to get off at 4.30 really, but that never happened because the average musician got off from Bourbon Street and got there at two or three. The night's entertainment always consisted of a show. The Dew Drop had no clocks inside, it was always dark at the front, so you don't really realise that it was daylight outside .
Bartholomew's drummer was Earl Palmer. In his autobiography he stated that "Thomas was the first chick I had anything to do with. I was about twelve, she was three or four years older and lived on Dumaine Street, between Claiborne and Robertson. It was the kind of thing where the grown ups are gone and you're in the house. Blanche was a very forward girl. She dared me. "You don't know how to do nothing", being a young, feisty dude, I said, "Yes I do!" You know, the kind of braggadocio attitude. "I bet you never had a girl" "Sure I did!" "Aw, you don't know what to do" I had sensed this was going to be the time. But I still wouldn't have been surprised if she'd slapped me and said, "Get the hell away from here!" I was kissing on her and feeling on her and I told her I was going to put it in her. Next thing you know, that's just what I did. I remember thinking, "Jesus, I really don't know how to do this" All I could think afterwards was "I should have done this earlier!"
During the 1950s Blanche also performed at trumpet player Leon Prima's 500 Club, at Bourbon & St. Louis Streets. After her Bartholomew engagement at the Dew Drop Inn, she moved to the Mardi Gras Lounge at 333 Bourbon St. It was the white clarinet virtuoso Sid Davila who was the owner and he used to sit in with the bands as well. Blanche said that "this was THE place to work". Another great New Orleans female singer who performed there was Lizzie Miles.
Blanche Thomas sang in the Windy City for two years and she also worked at the Show Boat and the Pick Collier Club in that City. She worked with tenor and clarinet player Franz Jackson's Band at his 'Red Arrow Club', in Chicago in 1962 as well. And she returned to the Windy City in 1964 for an engagement with piano player Art Hodes at the 'Showboat Sari-S'.
In 1958 trumpet player Wallace Davenport recorded with Blanche in New Orleans. The result was a 45 on Davenport's small "Ponchartrain" label. The band consisted of Davenport, Nat Perilliat tenor, Ed Frank organ, Richard Payne bass and Ed Blackwell drums. Thomas sang the lovely ballad "This Love Of Mine". It's a song from 1941 with words by Frank Sinatra. Drummer Blackwell, was soon to gain fame in alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's brand of avant-garde Jazz. It was the great drummer Paul Barbarin who introduced Blanche in the traditional Jazz world. The occasion was the New Orleans Jazz Club's eleventh concert, at the Municipal Auditorium in October 1959. Barbarin had added Blanche to his "All Stars" and it was the Barbarin Band that opened the show. The New Orleans Jazz Club member Helen Arlt stated that "I'll never forget her. Blanche came on stage in her shiny lime green, tight fitting dress. Paul had boasted of Blanche as "crowd charmer". How right he was. Before she was half way through her opening number, there was fluttering through the audience, signifying its complete approval of the robust gal on the stage". In the early 60's Thomas' made a couple of recordings with the Barbarin band for the "Southland" label and she was with the band when they crossed the Pacific Ocean 1967 to entertain the US. troupes in South Vietnam and Cambodja.
Around 1965, Al Clarke's NOBILITY label did a session that was one of Blanche Thomas' best efforts. New life was put into the tunes with the very effective arrangements by the trombonist Waldren Frog Joseph. The band was led by Albert Papa French and the personnel was: Alvin Alcorn, Joseph, Cornbread Thomas, Jeanette Kimball, Frank Fields and Louis Barbarin. The session was cut by the legendary Cosimo Matassa at his 525 Governor Nichols Street studio.


In 1970 she also sang with the Al Hirt Band, doing local club dates in St. Louis. During the 60's and 70's Blanche was a constant attraction at the Dixieland Hall and later at the Heritage Hall and some other venues in New Orleans. She was featured when Louis Cottrell's band did a concert at the Carnegie Hall in New York on February 12, 1974. The show was recorded for the small VIKO label.
In the summer of 1975 Blanche made her initial visit to Europe and the 'Grand Parade du Jazz' in Nice, France. She was backed by the very fine band of Louis Cottrell, with Teddy Riley, Waldren Frog Joseph, Walter Lewis, Placide Adams and once again Freddie Kohlman. The former Ellington and Louis Armstrong clarinet man Barney Bigard, was added as an extra attraction. There is a private recording of the concert and a "RARITIES" LP was issued containing 7 items, including two vocals by Blanche: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" and "Bill Bailey". Thomas in her second chorus sang the line: "A Hard Man Is Good To Find" (sic)!
When death arrived, she was dressed "All in pink from head to her toes -she even had on her little pink Communion cap", said her daughter Betty Newton. Newton didn't allow a traditional jazz funeral because "my mama never discussed it at all". And the officiating minister emphatically rejected the consideration of one involving "his church". However, after the dismissal services Harold Dejan's Olympia Brass Band played a couple of gospel items softly, outside of the church. Blanche Thomas is buried in the Holt Cemetery, besides her daughter she also left a son, one brother, four sisters plus a couple of grandchildren.

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