Born in Chicago(God I love that city) in 1953. Evelyn Thomas grew up on Chicago’s south side, an area that is rich in musical history. Evelyn, like most great black female singers, began singing in her local church. As a teenager, she enjoyed music and was particularly inspired by the rising Motown sound and its stable of divas and girl groups.
After finishing school and securing a bland office job, Evelyn started acting lessons and had her eye on a career in performing. Her first chance at recording came in 1973 when her church choir recorded “Something Special” with Reverend Anne Crockett Ford. A second album “Share The Bread Of Presence” by the Centre For Contemporary Celebration was released in 1974.
By 1974, having her voice in place and the desire to make it, Evelyn left for New York. Answering an audition notice for talented singers for an upcoming Broadway show, Evelyn, with her incredible voice easily landed a part in the chorus. After a brief run on Broadway and an appearance on the 1975 original cast album of “The Wiz”, she returned home to Chicago.
Having acquired a manager while in New York Evelyn was poised for secular success. While back home Evelyn was notified by her manager that a young Englishman was in town searching for “soul” singers. In 1975 Ian Levine was a disc jockey from England. He was one of the founders of England’s “northern soul” explosion and his success at Blackpool Mecca is legendary. Ian, whose parents were quite wealthy, would often make record-buying junkets to the U.S. and his love of Motown, R&B, and soul would eventually spur him into record producing. Levine had come to America to discover a talent for his newly formed Voltafine Production Company. His goal was to record American soul singers and lease the masters to major U.S./U.K.record companies. Thomas sang in a plain, unemotional voice that masked her ethnicity; Thomas is a black singer who sounds white, by design or by chance. Impressed by her voice and willingness, Levine cut some tracks and secured a deal for her with 20th Century Records. During this period, Levine was a constant victim of rip-offs and threats, but persevered to realize his dream, often having to call up friends and relatives for loans via Western Union for payoffs and to complete sessions.
Levine and Danny Leake produced Thomas’ first 45 single, “Weak Spot,” which was arranged by Paul Wilson. It soon entered the U.K.’s Top 50 and became a minor hit. The success of Thomas’ record and others (“Running In Another Direction”-Barbara Pennington “My Destination Is Love”-L.J. Johnson) prompted Voltafine to fly their American artists to England to appear on Top Of The Pops, in hopes of breaking the recordings on Britain’s pop charts. Thomas came over with her fellow Chicagoans and Voltafine artists Barbara Pennington and L.J. Johnson. The appearances went well but the records never crossed the pop charts, nor did they chart in the States. Still, “Weak Spot” sold 70,000 copies, pretty good for a debut.
After returning to Chicago, the threesome was soon flown back to England to tour the Northern soul clubs; this event was promoted by Terry King and was called the Chicago Soul Review. 20th Century records welcomed Thomas with open arms and did all they could to help her while she was in England. Thomas went over well at the clubs, being blessed with a perpetual smile and a bluesy voice that Levine and Leake could transform to pop/disco in a New York minute. Financially, the tour was a failure, drawing well in the northern areas but failing miserably in London proper. “Doomsday,” Thomas’ follow-up, didn’t do as well as her debut, entering the chart and dropping out, only to re-enter again for a pit stop before disappearing completely; it sold less than half of what “Weak Spot” did.
Back in the studios, Levine cut the Gloria Gaynor-influenced “Love Is Not Just An Illusion” and “My Head’s In The Stars” for Thomas, both would not be released for three years. Then came problems with an ex-manager who informed Levine that he was Thomas’ manager under contract, and demanded that Thomas’ royalties and contracts go through him. Levine insisted he had a valid contract, that is until he was taken on a scary car ride in a Mercedes with Thomas’ ex-manager, who now wanted $2,000 for compensation. After some scurrying around and many phone calls, the ex-manager was satisfied and Thomas was again Levine’s artist.
By now it was 1977 and Thomas had still not had a hit Stateside. Ian had persuaded Evelyn to move to England, Danny Leake had moved on and Levine had found a new partner, Fiachra Trench, who would share in his greatest successes. Trench-Levine-Thomas began recording tracks for a proposed upcoming album, or at least a single release. Seven tracks were produced by Levine and co-written and arranged by Trench. Two wouldn’t see the light of day till over a decade later and the other five were licensed to American disco label Casablanca Records. The 1978 release of “I Wanna Make It On My Own” was a masterpiece of classic disco. However it suffered from several things, a lack of promotion from the label and its failure to release a 12″ single, either promotionally or commercially. Despite that the record was successful and thanks to a Canadian 12″ single medley of songs from the album it sold well.
Excited by the initial success and dismayed by Casablanca’s hands-off approach, Levine quickly produced two cuts to shop around as a 12″ single to other labels. AVI Records bought the rights to “Have A Little Faith In Me” and “No Time To Turn Around.” A promotional-only 12″ single was released and the response was overwhelmingly positive. The label wanted more tracks to issue an album. Ian hired former Chicago D.J. Rick Gianatos to remix two earlier cuts, “My Heads In The Stars” and “Love’s Not Just An Illusion” to appease the label. (Hot Productions added five non-album tracks to its 1996 CD release of “Have A Little Faith In Me.” The singer’s first two singles, “Weak Spot” and “Doomsday” (from 1975 and 1976, respectively), as well as “Summer On The Beach,” “Love In The First Degree,” and the mostly instrumental “Sleaze.”) The label (AVI) folded shortly afterward and Evelyn wouldn’t be released on vinyl again for nearly five years until Ian’s cash flow allowed him to operate his own label.
By 1984 Levine had scored enough minor hits with his ever-growing stable of artists to bankroll another Thomas-led round of recordings. At this session, Ian and Evelyn would make history and literally turn the club music scene around. During the early 1980’s disco presumably had died and club music had turned to a funkier downbeat sound. Tapping in on a frustrated predominantly gay audience that yearned for uptempo music Ian created “High Energy.” This one song started the Hi-NRG movement and became Evelyn’s biggest, most successful, and signature song. The album featured two more uptempo hits, “Masquerade” and “Second Best” as well as the more downbeat “Shy Guy” and “Heartless.” “High Energy” was such an international hit that it has been remixed and re-released several times over the ensuing years. Evelyn has toured Europe, Canada, the entire U.S., Japan, Australia, and even South America based on the success of this one song.
For the follow-up album recorded in 1985 Ian, Trench, and Thomas honed the mix that they had perfected the previous year. “Standing At The Crossroads” was another smash, although topping “High Energy” would be next to impossible. This album produced more singles than any album she had done previously, six of the eight tracks were remixed and released as 12″ singles.
The first single released was a remake of the Diana Ross & The Supremes classic “Reflections”. Followed by singles of “Cold Shoulder” (two mixes-1985), “Sorry Wrong Number” (1985), “How Many Hearts” (1986), “Tightrope” (1986), and “Standing At The Crossroads” (1987). A medley using “High Energy” as the backdrop was also released on orange vinyl.
By 1987 Evelyn had relocated to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and her next project was with famed South Florida producer Ray Martinez (Amant-Passion-Celi Bee). A 12″ single of “High Voltage” on Paris International was the result of this collaboration. It’s available on “Match Made Up In Heaven-The Best Of Paris Int.” on a Hot Productions compact disc.
In 1988 I had the opportunity to work with Evelyn. Her show on April 15th was exciting and memorable. Although contracted for a 25-minute performance Evelyn had so much fun that it lasted closer to an hour. Besides the actual performance, two things stick out in my mind about that weekend. Prior to the show at her hotel room, while having her makeup and hair done I commented that on her latest album (see picture above) she reminded me of Connie Francis. Evelyn had no idea who Connie was, her makeup man and I were dying over that, later I showed her an album of Connie and she too enjoyed the laugh and agreed that there was a similarity.
And the next day, prior to taking her to the airport for a late afternoon flight, we went to her sister’s house for breakfast. We listened to music, ate, and talked. It was fun to hear stories from her sister about Evelyn and her antics….my lips are sealed so don’t ask! She was one of the nicest, sweetest, and most down-to-earth persons I have worked with. Coming home to Chicago seemed to give us a unique bond and allowed her to open up and enjoy herself.
Although she has not released any more albums, all of them are available on compact discs from Hot Productions, the 12″ singles, however, kept coming. “This Is Madness” for Megatone Records in 1989, “High Energy (Remix)” for Passion Records in 1990, two remixes for Almighty Records; “Reflections” (1992) and “High Energy” (1993), “Move Your Body” for ESA Records (1993) another remake of “High Energy” for Energise Records in 1996 and her last known recording with Groove Box in 1998 on “Tell The World.”
You may have last seen her in 1995 on the Ricki Lake Show, but today Evelyn Thomas, along with husband/music director Anthony Simpson, is once again on tour. She’s mixing the hits with new material… in promotion of her new Gospel musical production, “WITNESS…” in a show that is better than ever!
Residing in SW Florida, Thomas has recently signed an exclusive management contract with KSIMEL MANAGEMENT INC. and is accepting offers from venues and agents worldwide. So if she performs anywhere near you catch her show……you’ll love her too!
Your influences? Gospel, Jazz, Christian Contemporary, Christian House, Easy listening, Dance Pop, and Classic R&B. Inspirational music in three genres. (Gospel Jazz, Christian Contemporary & Christian House)
Favorite spot? My favorite spot is inside the Kingdom of Yahweh. You should check it out.
Equipment used: ProTools, Logic, Digital Performer