The crown prince of dance, the comically inspirational and legendarily entertaining R&B showman Rufus Thomas was born on this day in 1917. A singer, dancer, radio DJ, comedian and father figure in a musical family, Thomas charmed everyone with his songs, dances and personality.
A Memphis native, he worked with a minstrel show in the '30s and started performing on the city's nightclub scene in the '40s. He cut his first record in '41. He became a popular radio DJ on the black owned radio station WDIA and hosted talent shows on Beale St. His first big hit ("Bear Cat", an answer record to Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog") came in '53 for the upstart Sun Records. He also recorded for Chess in the '50s, while continuing holding a longtime day job at a bleaching plant.
He joined the fledgling Stax/Satellite family in '59 and achieved success in duets with his daughter Carla Thomas. "Walking The Dog" was a Rufus solo hit in '63, later covered by the Rolling Stones. His early '70s work for Stax stands to some as his best and possibly his longest lasting, thanks to hiphop samples and funky production. Witness him tearing it up at WattStax, where his performance was a highlight.
As Stax folded in '75, he became less visible and his recording slowed. He did continue his radio career, playing blues and R&B for Memphis stations. He did some touring as "the world's oldest teenager". He had a bit part in the Jim Jarmusch's '89 film Mystery Train. He also appeared in flicks by Robert Altman and D.A. Pennebaker. Several of his children also had/have notable music careers.