183246_114542445288154_8302012_nShe mesmerizes audiences with her energy, passion and that elusive quality known as ‘soul.’ Whether singing a jazz standard, a blues tune or one of her own much-loved pop/R&B recordings, Thelma Jones infuses each performance – be it in the recording studio or live onstage – with the same innate soulfulness. With roots in gospel and a longstanding love for the country music of artists like Hank Williams and for the blues work of artists such as B.B. King and T-Bone Walker, the North Carolina-native has developed her own distinctive style, drawing on such influences but always adding her own special touch. That ‘touch’ is never more evident than on her last CD, “Law Of Old.”

While Thelma says the ten-track set “is pretty much a bluesy album,” there are elements of the other musical forms she listened to during her formative years. The rousing “Movin’ On To A Higher” is a sanctified gospel-flavored cut while “Land Of The Jam” is, as the title implies, a funky workout. An infectious groove tune, the album’s title cut is a self-penned Jones composition, with a time-honored message; the jazzy “All Tears Fall” is a standout as is “Don’t Drop Me,” a blues opus that Thelma says “reminds me of my musical roots. Growing up, we only had access to country and blues but I would sneak and listen to music by artists like Little Willie John and others. If you heard me sing on some of my shows, you might think I was a jazz singer but when I first started singing secular music, people thought of me as a blues stylist. Personally, I like to think I can do any kind of music!”

Certainly, through her distinguished career, Thelma Jones has consistently shown that there are no limits to her musicality. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Thelma’s earliest musical experiences revolved around the church. “My aunt Mitty was the one who first encouraged me to sing gospel,” Thelma recalls. “I know she was amazed that I knew all the lyrics and melodies of the blues songs that were playing on the radio. She taught me the gospel tune, “I’ll Fly Away” and the first time I performed it in church, the congregation started jumping up and down and crying and screaming…it was quite frightening in a way since I was only a little girl…”

During her teen years, Thelma was a part of a family group known as the McDaniel Singers, recalling that her earliest gospel influence was the late Mahalia Jackson: “She sang from the heart and you could feel it in her voice.” After the family relocated to New York City, Thelma and the group began performing with such gospel notables as The Clara Ward Singers and as a soloist; she was featured on the Reverend James Cleveland’s popular “TV Gospel Time” show. Thelma cut one gospel single (“Little David Play On His Harp”) but it was only a matter of time before she entered the world of secular music. “I was singing with a group my sister had started and one night we were up at a club in Harlem which was a popular hangout for celebrities who appeared at The Apollo Theater,” says Thelma. “She dared me to sing so I did Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Him So” and T-Bone Walker was there. He convinced me to go to The Apollo’s amateur night. I went and I won and that was the beginning of my career as an R&B artist.”

Thelma signed with Barry Records, the sister label to Old Town (whose roster included a number of doo-wop artists, groups like The Fiestas and stylist Arthur Prysock), and cut five singles for the company. “The caliber of musicians was great, guys like Bernard Purdie on drums and The Sweet Inspirations (of Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin fame) singing backgrounds,” Thelma notes. “My first record, “Never Leave Me” did well and made it to the R&B charts. That led to my first ‘official’ appearance at The Apollo which is where I met the late Big Maybelle (known for classic hits like “Candy” and “Gabbin’ Blues”). I remember her saying, ‘I can’t believe it, a little bitty girl with a big ole voice!’ She took me under her wing and became a real mentor for me and that’s why, these days, I include a tribute to her in my ‘live’ shows.” The response to “Never Lave Me” led to shows on the famed chitlin’ circuit and Thelma appeared with such artists as The O’Jays, Otis Redding, Jerry Butler, The Intruders, Walter Jackson, Brook Benton, The Vibrations, James Brown, Howard Tate and another prime musical influence, Gladys Knight (& The Pips).
One of Thelma’s Barry singles, “The House That Jack Built” was shaping up to be a hit for her when ‘Queen Of Soul’ Aretha Franklin recorded it; Thelma’s original version made an impact among die-hard R&B fans in Europe after it was released in the U.K. Ever since, Thelma has been regarded as a soul sister of the first order and several of her Barry tracks have been reissued on CD in Britain in recent years, much to her amazement: “I really didn’t realize those songs would stand the test of time,” she smiles.

After performing consistently with the likes of longtime favorite B.B. King, Little Milton and The Staple Singers, Thelma relocated briefly to Florida, often appearing on blues-oriented shows. In 1976, after Columbia Records’ executives heard a ‘live’ version of Thelma singing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” she signed with the label. Her first release, the emotion-filled “Salty Tears” received considerable attention, especially in the U.K. The song is often requested by audiences wherever Thelma performs and the response it generated when first released led to Thelma’s self-titled 1978 Columbia album.

Produced by Bert DeCoteaux (known for his work with Ben E. King, Sister Sledge and other hit makers), the album contained Thelma’s chart making cover of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “I Second That Emotion” along with such standouts as the ballad “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love,” “I Can Dream” and “Now That We Found Love,” written by renowned Philly producers Gamble & Huff. The album received strong critical acclaim and remains much sought after by R&B collectors worldwide: both “Salty Tears” and “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love” are being reissued in the UK on a Sanctuary Records compilation in early 2004.

After Thelma moved to Los Angeles in 1980, she would frequently include tunes from her Columbia LP in shows with such artists as The Four Tops and Herb Jeffries. Inspired and encouraged by the legendary Ruth Brown, Thelma continued performing throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, appearing in clubs, in Las Vegas, at private parties and at five-star hotels such as Loews in Santa Monica where she was a constant favorite.

In 1996, after singing an accappella version of “Amazing Grace” at private function, she was approached by guitarist John Heussenstamm to appear at a fundraising event who was impressed with her heartfelt rendition of the classic hymn. Heussenstamm, whose credits include work with Linda Hopkins, Kenny Loggins, Deniece Williams and Michael McDonald, began working with Thelma on “Law Of Old.” “We recorded it in Laguna with some amazing musicians,” says Thelma. “It was so peaceful and there was no stress or pressure. It’s the first recording project I’ve done in a while and I’d say it really expresses who I am musically at this point in my career.”

Thelma’s recent credits include a Levi’s commercial, videos with Jackson Browne and saxophonist Najee and ovation-induced performances at the famed “Divas Simply Singing” concert, at a Rhythm & Blues Foundation benefit and at a tribute to Phyllis Hyman (benefit for The Minority AIDS Project) in Los Angeles. In 2008 Thelma appeared at the Sunset Junction Festival in Silver Lake, CA where she shared the bill with Millie Jackson and The O’Jays.She has created a loyal and strong following among audiences who are touched by her always real, always moving live performances. Thelma was invited to perform at the 2010 Porretta Soul Festival in Italy where she received a much-deserved rousing response from the gathering of dedicated soul music lovers. She has recently recorded a duet with singer Arnold McCuller for his upcoming CD “Soon As I Get Paid” which will be released later this year.

Thelma is enjoying a resurgence of interest in her music with the reissue of her 1978 Columbia self titled album in Japan and also the release of her Ace Records CD collection “Second Chance.” The latter contains not only all of her Columbia recordings but also her entire Barry sides as well. In 2012 Big Break Records issued her Columbia album with three bonus tracks. All of this has further stimulated interest in Thelma’s music as have online sales on her CD, “Law Of Old” and with its’ blues, jazz and R&B sound, this recording indeed promises to expand her growing audience worldwide; it is a true musical treat, a testament to her enduring talent and her soulful artistry.