Carla Thomas – daughter of Memphis disc jockey and singer Rufus Thomas – was only 10 years old when she started out with the Teen Town Singers (a chorus drawn from the black high schools around Memphis) and just 15 when the self-penned Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes) sold a million copies in 1960 and became her signature song.
She was one of the first artists to record for Stax, the label that came to define the Memphis sound.
With Stax-mate Otis Redding she worked up Tramp – in which the pair carried on a memorable mock quarrel – during an impromptu Christmastime session in 1966. In 1967 she toured the UK with Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley and Booker T as part of the legendary ‘Hit The Road’ Stax package tour.
Redding’s fatal plane crash cut short the collaborations that began with Tramp and the rest of their King and Queen album.
Carla spent most of the 1970s in Los Angeles, pursuing an acting career while recording for Stax until it folded in 1975.
Aside from a few commercials and occasional sessions with others, she recorded very little since Stax’s demise.
As an artist-in-residence for the Tennessee Arts Commission, she conducted workshops and talked to school kids about music, performing, drug abuse and other topics.