Skip to main content

Thomas, Joe (Joseph V.), 1909-1986



  • Existence: June 14, 1909 - August 3, 1986


Joe Thomas was born on June 14, 1909, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He began his professional career on the alto saxophone with Horace Henderson, but changed to tenor after joining Stuff Smith in 1932. Bandleader Jimmie Lunceford heard him play in 1933 in Buffalo, New York, and asked Thomas to join his group. Thomas’ exuberant personality as both singer and saxophone soloist is often credited with playing a major role in the success of the Lunceford band. After the bandleader’s death in 1947, Thomas led the Lunceford band with fellow band member Eddie Wilcox, but left after one year to form his own group. His huge and melodious tone is said to have influenced an entire generation of saxophonists in the 1940s.

In the early 1950s, Thomas settled in Kansas City, Missouri, to run the Bruce R. Watkins Funeral Home. He also led the St. Stephen Baptist Church choir during this time. Thomas appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1970 and recorded as a leader of a quartet with Jimmie Rowles in 1979, but otherwise largely retired from the jazz world when he moved to Kansas City. Thomas died August 3, 1986.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Joseph V. Thomas Collection

Identifier: MS-0014
Scope and Contents The Joseph V. Thomas Collection was donated to the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1997 by Theron Johnson, the daughter of Thomas.Housed in LaBudde Special Collections, the manuscript collection consists of correspondence, newspaper clippings, music scores, song books, photographs, material related to the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra and the St. Stephen Baptist Church (Kansas City), and other miscellaneous items. The heart of the collection are the several hundred photographs...
Dates: 1941 - 1991