by Uncle Dave Lewis
Hociel Thomas was the daughter of pioneering blues and boogie woogie pianist George W. Thomas Jr., and the niece of legendary blues singer Sippie Wallace. Born in Houston, from the age of 12 Hociel Thomas was raised by her aunt in the Storyville red-light district in New Orleans. Hociel inherited both her aunt's singing ability and her father's talent as a barrelhouse pianist, and this helped her earn her own keep. Sometimes Hociel and Wallace worked as a team, and in 1923 they relocated to Chicago together. Hociel made her first records fronting a group led by her younger uncle, Hersal Thomas, in early 1925, and thier duet recording made at Okeh, "Worried Down with the Blues," did well. When Louis Armstrong came back to Chicago after a year-long stint with Fletcher Henderson, he recorded with Hersal Thomas in a session backing Hociel; the next day the first "Hot Five" sides were made. But these records with Armstrong, for various reasons, were not the best showcase for Hociel Thomas' talents, leading to her reputation among jazz buffs that she was not a good singer. She would do better in a trio session with Armstrong and Hersal Thomas held in February, 1926, but these would prove her last records for two decades. Hersal Thomas died later that year at the age of 20, and Hociel dropped out of show business.

In 1946 Hociel Thomas turned up in Oakland, California, and was recorded by Rudi Blesh's Circle Records singing, playing piano and in duets with Mutt Carey. Her work on these records is extraordinary - she was a soulful, "seen it all" vocalist and her piano playing is strongly rooted in the tradition of her father. For some months she joined the San Francisco revival scene and appeared with Kid Ory's Creole Orchestra. But this all came to end when Thomas was charged with murder after a fight with one her sisters turned fatal, blinding Hociel in the process. Although Hociel Thomas was acquitted of these charges, she only outlived her release from jail by a couple of years. Hociel Thomas was a pioneer of jazz who was in all practical purposes present right after its birth, and in the center of it. But for Thomas, the spotlight shone none too brightly, and only once in awhile.

Hociel Thomas accompanied by Louis Armstrong's Jazz Four
Title Recording Date Recording Location Company
Deep Water Blues
(Thomas)
2-24-1926 Chicago, Illinois Okeh
8297
Fish Tail Dance 6-1925 Chicago, Illinois Okeh
8222
G'wan I Told You
(Blair / Lethwick)
2-24-1926 Chicago, Illinois Okeh
8346
I Can't Feel Frisky Without My Liquor (Negro Blues)
(Hunter / Thomas)
4-6-1925 Richmond, Indiana Gennett
3004-A
Buddy
8020
I Must Have It 4-6-1925 Richmond, Indiana Gennett
3006
Buddy
8020
Listen To Ma
(Thomas)
2-24-1926 Chicago, Illinois Okeh
8346
Lonesome Hours
(Thomas)
2-24-1926 Chicago, Illinois Okeh
8297
Worried Down With The Blues 4-6-1925 Richmond, Indiana Gennett
3006
Buddy
8021
Worried Down With The Blues 6-1925 Chicago, Illinois Okeh
8222
Artist Instrument
Louis Armstrong Cornet
Hersal Thomas Piano