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.