About the Thomas Family

Sippie Wallace and her talented musical siblings in Houston’s Thomas family comprise one of the most important family units in the history of the Blues.
Sippie’s older brother, George Washington Thomas, Jr., was a pianist, bandleader, songwriter and publisher. His “New Orleans Hop Scop Blues,” published in 1916, was one of the earliest songs denoting the left handed piano figure that came to be known as boogie woogie and became a hit for Bessie Smith. His biggest hit, 1919’s “Muscle Shoals Blues,” was the first record Fats Waller ever made. It was also recorded by James. P. Johnson, W.C. Handy, Fletcher Henderson and Benny Moten, among many others.
Sippie’s younger brother Hersal was a musical prodigy who died tragically at the age of 19 in 1926. As a teenager in Chicago with George he helped to define the piano style that came to be known as boogie woogie. His compositions, “The Fives,” and “Suitcase Blues,” along with George’s “The Rocks,” continue to be standards in the boogie woogie repertoire. Both Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis, acknowledged giants of this music, cite Hersal as a major influence. Even W.C. Handy commented on his genius. Every pianist who heard Hersal said he was the best. Hersal accompanied Sippie in the studio and on the road, made several solo recordings for Okeh, and also some important recordings with Louis Armstrong, backing both Sippie and his Aunt Hocile.
Hocile Thomas was George’s daughter but raised as Sippie’s sister. She too was a pianist and singer who made classic blues records, including one with Hersal, Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds and Johnny St. Cyr the day before Armstrong’s Hot Five cut their first record in Chicago. Her best sides were recorded in 1946 in San Francisco for Rudy Blesch’s Circle Records with Kid Ory and Mutt Carey
Sippie’s older sister Willie, known as Tate, was one of the most revered singers at the First Shiloh Baptist Church in Houston and a featured soloist with the National Baptist Convention before selected as President of the Senior Choir at Shiloh.
Tate helped Sippie learn how to sing, and George taught her how to play the piano. It was George who was asked by Okeh Records’ Ralph Peer to recommend some women who might sing the blues and who suggested that Peer audition his sister. And while Sippie was a magnificent pianist in her own right, she never focused much on her playing because she thought her younger and more talented siblings would always be there to play for her. When she became a big enough star that she could demand her own sidemen, she called for Hersal.