Soul heroine Carla Thomas has been named as a recipient of the Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award, recognized as Tennessee’s highest honor in the arts.
The fresh accolade comes after Thomas won last month’s Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Inspiration Award. In a press release from the Tennessee Arts Commission, Governor Bill Lee and First Lady Maria Lee says of the recognition: “Tennessee has a rich artistic heritage, and we are proud of these outstanding recipients who are leaders in the arts across our state. Maria and I congratulate each of them, and we are proud of their accomplishments.”
Tennessee Arts Commission Executive Director Anne B. Pope added: “The arts help build stronger communities by enhancing the quality of life and the distinctive character of Tennessee places. The 2021 recipients of the Governor’s Arts Award have each contributed significantly in defining who we are as a state.”
Since their inception in 1971, the Governor’s Arts Awards have celebrated those who have made outstanding contributions to the cultural life of the state of Tennessee. Thomas was nominated by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and named in the Distinguished Artist Award category.
Widely known and loved as the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Thomas was inspired by her father Rufus, also a notable star of the heyday of Stax Records. She is revered for such career hits as “Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes),” an R&B and pop hit as early as 1960, “B-A-B-Y” and her famous duet with Otis Redding, “Tramp.”
Her final Stax album was Love Means… in 1971, but she stayed with Stax until its closure in 1975 and continued to play live and live in Memphis. More recently, she has invested in her community, notably via her involvement with Artists in the Schools Residencies. The workshop series encourages individual creativity for K-12 grade students.