Billy Joe Thomas or more popularly known as B.J. Thomas was an award-winning country music artist with five Grammys and two Dove awards under his belt. In his five-decade career, he sold over 70 million albums with the chart-topping hit song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” and million-dollar selling song “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
As a commemoration of his great contributions in the industry, here is a quick everything-you-need-to-know about B.J. Thomas.
Early Life: Billy Joe Thomas
Billy Joe Thomas was born on August 7, 1942 in Hugo, Oklahoma to parents Vernon and Geneva Thomas. He had two siblings named Jerry and Judy Thomas, and they were American nationals who belonged to the American-White ethnic background.
While there is not much personal information regarding his childhood, a source noted that his father was an alcoholic who loved music, especially the songs of Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb, who were both influential country music artists of their time. And in an interview with the Huffington Post in 2014, he mentioned that he was raised in a fairly dysfunctional situation – alcohol and drugs – which turned to be one of the many challenges in his life that he had to deal with.
B.J. Thomas grew up in and around Houston, Texas. As a kid, he loved playing baseball, which was also when he started calling himself B.J. since many of his Little League teammates had the same name as him.
He finished his secondary education at the Lamar Consolidated High School in Rosenberg. As a teenager, he used to sing in a church choir and listen to different song genres like country, gospel, and pop to widen his musical boundaries. His inspirations back then were Mahalia Jackson, Little Richard, and Jackie Wilson, whose hit ballad “To Be Loved” was later on covered by him.
He then later on joined the band The Triumphs with high school friends Tim Griffith who played the lead guitar, Tom Griffith on bass, Denver ‘Zeke’ Zatyka on keyboards, Don Drachenberg on vocals and the sax, and lastly Ted Mensik on the drums. During his senior year, he became friends with Roy Head of Roy Head and The Traits, and in the early 1960s, the two bands held a lot of Battle of the Bands events.
Marriage and Family: ‘I Love Women But I Only Love One Woman’
For an industry like show business, B.J. Thomas had one of the longest runs with over 50 years of union. B.J. Thomas’ wife Gloria Richardson is a singer-songwriter whose notable records include “When I Became The Wind,” which she wrote with her husband. She also wrote songs for B.J. throughout his career. In an interview with AZCentral, he said that he loved many women but he only really loved one woman, and that was Gloria.
The two first met in a bar. Thomas first spotted her across the table and she turned out to be with a friend of his who was a drummer. He went on to find him and told him that he was going to take Gloria home. And that was the start of their love story. They married in December 1968 and had two daughters, Paige and Erin. And the couple also adopted Nora from North Korea in 1978.
Things weren’t always great, especially after Thomas got hooked on drugs and alcohol, which almost ended their marriage. But in January 1976, Thomas changed for the better and became a Christian and had been sober since his reconciliation with his wife.
Career: Award-Winning Country Music Artist
He had his first claim to fame when he and his band released their hit cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” under Pacemaker Records in 1966, which sold over a million copies and was awarded a Golden Disc.
After starting his solo career, he recorded another version of that cover with producer Huey P. Meaux under Scepter Records during the same year, which became an instant hit. The song catapulted to number eights on the pop charts and also spent 13 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
He first broke through to the Top 5 in 1968 with “Hooked on a Feeling,” penned by his childhood friend, Mark James. But what truly propelled his career to superstardom and became his first number one hit was “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” for the 1970 film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” starring Paul Newman and Katharine Ross.
After his bout with substance abuse came his transition to gospel music in 1976 with his album “Home Where I Belong,” which bagged him a Dove award. Consequently, all of his five Grammy awards were all earned by religious-themed songs.
In 1981, Thomas was inducted as the 60th member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was definitely one of the most successful country artists who had hits across different genres. He was also an author and he released two books, including his autobiographical “Home Where I Belong.”
Death of a Great Country Music Artist
Last March 2021, Thomas announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. After a short battle, B.J. Thomas died at his home in Arlington, Texas on May 29. He was 78. He may not have won his fight with cancer, but his music lives on.