The Queen of Soul of Memphis is in the City of Music to receive a national honor.
Carla Thomas, the Stax recording artist whose indelible hits including “Gee Whiz” and “BABY” helped establish the McLemore Avenue studio and her hometown as “Soulsville USA” in the 1960s and 1970s , will take the stage at Nashville Historic Ryman Auditorium Wednesday evening to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 20th edition of the Americana Awards.
The award will be presented by longtime former Memphiane, Valerie June, the Jackson, Tennessee-born and now Brooklyn-based artist who hired Thomas to perform with her on “Call Me a Fool,” a number that is nominated for an Americana award for song of the year.
Produced by Boo Mitchell and recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, the song appeared on Album of the Year in June, named “The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers”. The women will perform the song during the show, after which Thomas will perform “BABY”, her Top 20 pop hit that arrived in 1966, six years after she and her father, Rufus Thomas, recorded “Cause I Love You” , the duo was the first song to bring national attention to the company that would become known worldwide as Stax.
Thomas, 78, said receiving recognition at the Ryman was especially important to her, as she and her musical family – including her late brother Marvell and sister, Vaneese, who will join her in Nashville – were loyal listeners to the Grand Ole Opry. when the famous country music program aired from his original home at Ryman.
âLook where I introduce myself, as they say, in quotes,â she said (humorously acknowledging the grammatical inaccuracy of the phrase âintroduce yourself to.â) âWhen I was a young puppy, j Found Roy Acuff and Hank Williams. It was my time. And Brenda Lee, it was the one I was trying to emulate.
“My mom (Lorene Thomas) always wanted to go to the Opry. So being at the Ryman goes back to some of my early roots.”
STAX MUSEUM OF SOUL AMERICAN MUSIC:Stax Museum receives massive archive of late Chicago soul historian Bob Abrahamian
Valerie June ‘like a little angel to me’
âRootsâ is an appropriate word to use in the context of the Americana Honors & Awards, a program of the Americana Music Association, a non-profit organization that celebrates artists whose work combines blues, folk, country, bluegrass and other forms of traditional American “roots” music.
âI’m actually really overwhelmed,â Thomas said, sipping a peach smoothie and talking on the phone on the road to Nashville, inside a car driven by his friend, Nicki Newburger. âThe awards have been around for a while, and a friend of mine, Mavis, already got it,â she said, referring to Mavis Staples (also a member of a famous Stax musical family).
The Lifetime Achievement Award that Thomas will receive is called the “Americana Inspiration Award”. Other lifetime winners at Wednesday’s ceremony will include the Fisk Jubilee Singers (Legacy Award), The Mavericks (Trailblazer), Keb ‘Mo’ (Performance) and Trina Shoemaker (Producer / Engineer).
NOMINATED FOR THE AMERICANA AWARD 2021:Jason Isbell and Amythyst Kiah top nominations
Thomas said she never saw June perform while the young artist lived in Memphis, but agrees that the women are a complementary couple, and not just musically: the two artists have a colorful, distinctive fashion sense. and eccentric. I call her my fairy godmother, because everyone needs a fairy godmother, someone who can show the way and protect you, âJune said in an interview earlier this year in Paste magazine.
âCarla is a woman from my part of the world,â she added. “She knows what it’s like to be an African American woman who makes Southern music, both the ups and downs.”
âIt’s always young when someone younger pays you homage,â Thomas said. “She’s just like a little angel to me.”
What’s next for Carla Thomas?
Last month, Thomas joined fellow Stax colleague William Bell to perform “BABY” on stage at Orpheum’s Halloran Center in Memphis, but she said she hadn’t been out much since the closure of the 2020 pandemic. . âI was kind of closed with it,â she said.
An avid film buff, she nevertheless continues to frequent local cinemas. What has she seen lately? ” Candy ” ? “Are you kidding me? God, no,” she replied. âLast week I went to see ‘Aretha.’ I love Jennifer, âshe said, referring to the biopicâ Respect, âwhich stars Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin.
Thomas said Wednesday’s Americana event will mark only the second time she has been in the Ryman. The premiere took place in 1984, when she performed at a benefit concert for Nashville radio disc jockey John Richbourg, known as “John R”, a music enthusiast. rhythm and blues died of lung cancer in 1986.
âHe was playing R&B music when he wasn’t, let me put it that way, it’s trendy for him to do it,â Thomas said. “All these R&B people were at the Ryman that night. James Brown even showed up on his bus.”
She said the âlifetimeâ recognition from the Americana Music Association led her to consider her legacy – and the possibility of future recordings. “Now my name is coming back to the fore, and I’m like, ‘Uh-oh, I better try and do something.'”
She also said it would have been nice if her past successes had been more recognized. “I would have loved to have a regular Grammy.”