Rufus Thomas

Rufus Thomas, legendary R&B singer, was born on March 26, 1917, in Cayce, Mississippi, just south of Memphis. He began performing in the 1930s at the Palace and Handy theaters in Memphis and as a traveling entertainer with such troupes as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Along with Robert Counce, Thomas formed a popular tap dance/scat singing act called “Rufus and Bones.”

In the early 1950s Thomas made several recordings for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. “Bear Cat” reached number three on the charts, an early success for both Sun Records and Thomas. Already an established local performer, Thomas took a disk jockey job with Memphis’s WDIA radio in 1954. His shows, Sepia Swing Club, Heebie Jeebies, and Hoot ‘n’ Holler, gave initial exposure to many R&B artists.

During the 1960s Thomas played an important role in the early success of Stax Records. His duet “‘Cause I Love You,” with daughter Carla in 1960, was an international hit. Carla launched her solo career with “Gee Whiz” in 1961 and was billed as the “Queen of Memphis Sound.”

Recording for Stax, Thomas had a top-ten hit on the R&B chart with “Walking the Dog” in 1963. Achieving this success at the age of forty-five, he earned the title of the “World’s Oldest Living Teenager.” Thomas recorded a succession of dance hits, including “Do the Funky Chicken” (1970), “Do the Push and Pull” (1970), “The Breakdown” (1971), and “Do the Funky Penguin” (1971). At the age of eighty, Thomas continues to perform on Beale Street when not on tour.

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  • Article Title Rufus Thomas
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date May 25, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018