Cayce in Marshall County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
A recording artist, disc jockey, comedian, and ambassador for Memphis music, Rufus Thomas (1917 – 2001) was born here in Cayce. As a young man Thomas toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and later worked in Memphis as an emcee at Beale Street’s Palace Theater and as an influential and long serving deejay on WDIA. Known as the “world’s oldest teenager,” Thomas recorded blues for Chess and Sun, and his many soul hits for Stax included "Walking the Dog."
Rufus Thomas embodied the spirit of Memphis music perhaps more than any other artist, and from the early 1940s until his death on December 15, 2001, occupied many important roles in the local scene. Thomas was born in Cayce on March 26, 1917, and his family lived on Mt. Carmel Road before they moved to Memphis in about 1921. After graduation from Booker T. Washington High School in 1936 Thomas went out on the road with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels of Port Gibson, Mississippi, initially working as a tap dancer and later as a singer. He later became the host—together with partner Robert “Bones” Couch—of
Thomas, who counted Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Gatemouth Moore as his most important musical influences, made his first recording for the Star Talent label around Christmas of 1949, followed by singles for Bullet, Chess, Sun, and Meteor. He scored the first hit for Sun, Sam Phillips’ new label, in 1953 with “Bear Cat,” an answer song to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.” Thomas remained a prominent force in Memphis music via his popular Hoot 'n' Holler program at WDIA; his high school history teacher, Nat D. Williams, hired him on as a deejay in 1950. A second and more successful stage of Thomas’ recording career, as a soul singer, began in 1960, when he recorded “Cause I Love You,” a duet with his teenage daughter Carla, for the new Satellite label. A regional hit, it prompted a production and distribution deal with powerful Atlantic Records. Satellite soon changed its name to Stax, and over the next fifteen years Thomas scored multiple hits for the label including “The Dog,” “Walking the Dog,” “Do the Funky Chicken,” “Jump Back,” “The Breakdown,” and the No. 1 R&B hit “(Do the) Push and Pull,” recorded when the perennially
In addition to his radio and recording career, Thomas provided for his family by working a full time job at the American Finishing Company textile firm from the early ‘40s until 1963. In the mid-1970s he left WDIA and worked a short while for WLOK, but returned to WDIA in 1986, hosting the popular “All Blues Show” together with Jay Michael Davis. Thomas, who gave a memorable performance in the 1973 concert film Wattstax, returned to the big screen for Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 Mystery Train and D. A. Pennebaker’s soul documentary Only the Strong Survive, which also featured Carla Thomas. Honors bestowed upon him include induction in the Blues Hall of Fame (2001), the naming of a Memphis street in his honor, and the creation of Rufus Thomas Park in Porretta, Italy, the site of a popular annual soul festival.
Erected 2012 by Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 163.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music • Entertainment. In addition, it is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail series list. A significant historical date for this entry is March 26, 1917.
Location. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 30 Lee Creek Road, Byhalia MS 38611, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 7 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Confederate Soldiers Memorial (approx. 6 miles away in Tennessee); Ridge of the attack (approx. 6.4 miles away in Tennessee); Joseph A. Campbell House (approx. 6.4 miles away in Tennessee); Memphis & Charleston Railroad (approx. 6.6 miles away in Tennessee); The Battle of Collierville (approx. 6.6 miles away in Tennessee); The Wigfall Grays (approx. 6.6 miles away in Tennessee); a different marker also named Battle of Collierville (approx. 6.6 miles away in Tennessee); Collierville, Tenn. (approx. 6.6 miles away in Tennessee).
Also see . . . Rufus Thomas - Memphis Music Hall of Fame. (Submitted on August 12, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
Credits. This page was last revised on August 12, 2016. It was originally submitted on August 12, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 350 times since then and 47 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on August 12, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.