In Memoriam: B.J. Thomas (1942-2021)
Information for this article was drawn from the many obituaries honoring Thomas’s life and work that appeared in the local and national press and the web.
Longtime Arlington resident B.J. Thomas, best remembered for his rendition of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”, featured in the 1969 classic film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, died May 29, 2021 at his home here in Arlington. Thomas’s version of “Raindrops,” which he performed at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1970, where it won the Oscar for Best Song that year, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014.
Billy Joe Thomas was born August 7, 1942 in Hugo, Oklahoma and raised in the Houston area, mainly in Rosenberg, Texas. His heyday as a pop star was the period 1966-1977, when his singles were constantly on the charts, including 15 that reached the Top 40. He had crossover pop-country appeal, some of his hits appearing on both charts simultaneously, and like Elvis Presley and other singers from the South, Thomas was also inspired by R&B and gospel idioms as well as country and rock.
In addition to “Raindrops,” his major hits include “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Mighty Clouds of Joy,” “Rock and Roll Lullaby,” and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” According to American chart history, this song has the longest title for a #1 hit on the adult contemporary chart! The fact it was a crossover success from the country chart, where it also topped and the pop chart is testament to what a wonderful moment in time this recording represents.
Thomas’s years of greatest commercial success ironically coincided with his heavy alcohol and drug abuse (which were well-known at the time). He turned his life around in the mid-1970s through his conversion to Christianity, reconciliation with his wife Gloria (who survives him), and entry into a recovery program for his addictions.
After performing at Elvis Presley’s memorial service in 1977, Thomas continued to record and tour extensively, but primarily on the gospel circuit, with forays into the country music scene. Listening to B.J. Thomas’s greatest hits on YouTube offers a happy trip down Memory Lane for those of us old enough to remember exactly where we were when we heard the tragic news of Elvis’s untimely death.