Originally posted on MissBackInTheDayUSA
Carla Venita Thomas is an American singer, who is often referred to as the Queen of Memphis Soul. She is the daughter of Rufus Thomas.
Thomas was born and raised in the Foote Homes Projects. Along with her siblings, Marvell and Vaneese, she was one of three musical children of Rufus and Lorene Thomas. Despite growing up in the projects, the Thomas family lived near the Palace Theater on Beale Street, as Rufus was the theater’s emcee for their amateur shows.
This access not only gave Thomas her first taste of the music world but it also provided a springboard for her transformation into the Queen of the Memphis Sound.
Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)” is one of Carla’s well-remembered songs, although her single would eventually chart within the Top 10 on the pop chart and within the Top 5 on the R&B chart, it had an inauspicious beginning. Initially recorded at the Thomas family home,
Rufus shopped the song to Vee-Jay Records in Chicago. Vee-Jay never followed through or actively pursued securing the distribution rights. Because of his belief in the song’s potential, Rufus returned to Memphis and in the summer of 1960,
However, by February 1961, the song was being distributed nationally through Atlantic Records just as Thomas was in the midst of her first year at Tennessee A&I University in Nashville. The success of the single also propelled Thomas into the spotlight, as she performed on American Bandstand.
According to Thomas, “The record was young-sounding, romantic and it expressed what a lot of people wanted to say at that age, but still, I was surprised at how well it did”. Not only did this song provide a launching pad to Thomas’ first album, but it also gave Stax Records national exposure and label recognition.