New Orleans photographer Syndey Byrd made this portrait of Worthia "Showboy" Thomas seated with his trombone at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1981. Learn more »
Nicknamed for his tricks as a “show drummer,” Worthia G. “Showboy” Thomas was a New Orleans traditional jazz, brass band, and rhythm and blues (R&B) trombonist, drummer, and tuba player. Thomas is most widely remembered as a regular player in the George Williams Brass Band, the Onward Brass Band, the Kid Thomas Band, and as a friend and musical partner to both Danny Barker and Big Joe Turner, with whom he played often over the years.
Thomas was born on February 26, 1907, in Napoleonville into a musical family: Thomas had four uncles who were musicians, two of whom had had formal conservatory training. Although Thomas began his musical career as a teenager on drums and would perform on that instrument informally and professionally throughout the coming decades, he purchased a trombone while working with John Tunking’s band out of Alexandria and Natchitoches in the 1920s and took trombone lessons from Morris French. Thomas would play with Tunking’s band for seven years, until Tunking’s death.
During Thomas’s first years in New Orleans, he was a snare drummer in street parades as well as a trombonist in local bands. He performed with clarinetist Georgie Boyd before working with Buddy Petit. In 1927 Thomas began what would become a lifelong love affair with touring when he joined Robert Taylor’s Knee-High Revue; it would be followed by a long series of gigs with traveling carnivals, minstrel shows, and vaudeville troupes. Thomas would spend thirteen years playing with the famed Rabbit Foot Minstrels, tour with the “Miss Broadway” show out of Chicago, and play with the Jay McShann band from Kansas City in 1945. Thomas played for a number of rhythm and blues sessions in the late 1940s and 1950s as well. In the late 1950s Thomas was playing gigs with New Orleans musicians Ernie Cagnolatti and the Lawrence Marrero Polo Barnes New Orleans Jazz Band.
By 1960 Thomas had more or less settled back in New Orleans full-time, performing as a regular player in Narvin Kimball’s band. He also performed as a fill-in player with Paul Barbarin’s group, with whom he recorded for the GHB release Paul Barbarin and His New Orleans Jazz Band. Performance dates with Kid Thomas were also frequent, and Thomas is featured on the album Kid Thomas at Kohlman’s Tavern alongside Emanuel Sayles, Joseph Butler, and Emanuel Paul.
Preservation Hall performances were a staple of Thomas’s later years, and in 1967 he embarked on a tour of Japan with Kid Sheik and his Storyville Ramblers. Thomas was close friends with Danny Barker and played with him often throughout his later years.
Thomas died on August 9, 1994, in New Orleans.
Cite This Entry
Chicago Manual of Style
Hobbs, Holly. "Worthia Thomas." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published December 3, 2013. http://www.knowla.org/entry/1543/&view=summary.
Hobbs, Holly. "Worthia Thomas." KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 3 Dec 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2017.
Would you like to learn more about this topic from books and other reading materials?
Berry, Jason, Jonathan Foose, and Tad Jones. Up from the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music since World War II. Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2009.
Jacobsen, Thomas W. Traditional New Orleans Jazz: Conversations with the Men Who Make the Music. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011.
Knowles, Richard. Fallen Heroes: A History of New Orleans Brass Bands. New Orleans: Jazzology Press, 1996.
“Worthia Thomas.” Oral history transcripts. December 11, 1961. Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, New Orleans.