Vaneese Thomas is part of a musical legacy. Her father is Rhythm and Blues pioneer Rufus Thomas and her sister is chart-topping singer Carla Thomas. And she herself has carried on the legacy. Now Thomas is celebrating her new album, Blues For My Father.
When she first got into the music business, Thomas was initially a backing singer to various well-known performers and, even today, Aretha Franklin hardly performs without Thomas being onstage to provide her powerful backing vocal.
Now Thomas’ new album on Segue records features collaborations with Carla Thomas, Buddy Williams, Marvell Thomas, Lisa Fischer, Kirk Whalum, Will Lee, Shawn Pelton, Paul Shaffer, Fonzi Thornton and Alan Gorrie.
Living up to a legacy in any industry can be daunting, especially when you attach fame to the equation. And in fact, Thomas didn’t want to get involved in her family’s “business.” “I didn’t want to enter the music business! I avoided it like the plague,” she admits. But her calling was stronger than her hesitancy. “After getting my feet wet by performing in college afterwards I realized that this is my destiny and God showed me how I could touch people through song,” she explains.
Still, as a child, she learned how to deal with being in a successful family. “When I was a kid, I was introverted and would retreat to my room when the family got too loud and there was too much going on,” she shares. “But Daddy’s fame never put pressure on me. He was just ‘Daddy’ and what he did for a living was natural.”
But despite her own successes, Thomas says she would advise others to steer clear of following their parents’ footsteps when it comes to careers. “I would advise not trying to follow in their footsteps. Develop your own sense of self and your own style. When I first moved to NY, I didn’t tell anyone who my father was; I was intent on making my own way. That gave me time and space for folks to know me and my talent,” she says.
Even though you may come from a long line of successful people, you yourself might face a different set of obstacles, as did Thomas. “I continue to face career challenges. The new paradigm in releasing and promoting a record is daunting! There’s freedom to create your own way with new media but without a major label’s financial backing it’s expensive and really time consuming! I’m the artist, promoter, publicist and everything else!” she says.
Through it all however, Thomas continues to enjoy what she does. “I enjoy live performance most. Interacting with people during a performance gives me great joy. Also traveling and meeting new people is very satisfying. People have been so kind and supportive over the years,” she says.
Thomas is particularly proud of her new project. “I’m proud of my latest project, Blues For My Father. I’m delving deeply into music that helped to shape me growing up. I love the blues and remember daddy singing the blues often,” she says. “Most people forget he sang the blues throughout his career. This is to honor him and other blues pioneers.” To further her father’s legacy, Thomas has created a petition on her website that she wants people to sign to have her father inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Although she was wary of entering into the same business as her father and sister, Thomas is more than glad she has carved out her own niche–and wouldn’t change a thing. “Music is life-giving,” she concludes. “It’s a part of my body and soul and that’s why I give it back to people. It needs to be shared…I’m blessed to be able to sing and make a living at something I love.”