Evelyn Thomas was discovered in her hometown of Chicago, IL, by Ian Levine in 1975. Levine had come to America to discover talent for his newly formed Voltafine Production Company. His goal was to record American soul singers and lease the masters to major recording companies. Thomas, an ex-gospel singer, sung 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. Ian Levine and Danny Leake produced Thomas' first 45 single, "Weak Spot," which was arranged by Paul Wilson and soon entered the U.K.'s Top 50. The success of Thomas' record and others 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 fellow Chicagoans and Voltafine artists Barbara Pennington and L.J. Johnson. The appearances went well but the records never crossed, nor did they do anything 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 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 gutless 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, Voltafine cut the Gloria Gaynor-influenced "Love Is Not Just an Illusion" and "My Head's in the Stars" for Thomas. 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 dollars for compensation. After some scurrying around and many phone calls, the ex-manager was satisfied and Thomas was again Levine's artist. Over the years, Thomas proved to be one of Levine's most prolific artists. To date, five CDs have resulted from the chance union of this Brit and American: The Best of Evelyn Thomas, Have a Little Faith in Me, High Energy, I Wanna Make It on My Own, and Standing at the Crossroads. Thomas' sweet, innocent voice can also be heard on some Redemption tracks when the group was billed as Redemption Featuring Evelyn Thomas, and her singles are included on many compilation CDs. A pretty good run for an American singer who never had a hit or significant record in her own country.
© Andrew Hamilton /TiVo
© Andrew Hamilton /TiVo
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