African-American Gallery to pay tribute to James ‘Preacher’ Thomas June 22

Online Staff Report

Join the African-American Gallery of Rockford’s Ethnic Heritage Museum (EHM) from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, June 22, as it showcases its newest exhibit highlighting the career of local music legend James “Preacher” Thomas. Live music will be performed by Samuel Barmore and James Collins. Admission for the tribute is free, although donations are appreciated.

Preacher Thomas (1948-2013) started playing the guitar at the age of 4 years old. His family moved to Rockford when he was 7, and he began playing the drums and guitar in his father’s church, the Family Prayer Band Church.

At age 10, Preacher joined a 10-piece band, The Birdlegs Band (known for Birdlegs & Pauline’s hit single, “Spring”) and joined The Backsliders’ Band at age 16. During his lifetime, he formed several bands, including Preacher and The Prophets, Gutt Bucket Fonk and The Mad Daddy Band with local childhood musicians. Preacher gained popularity by playing in nightclubs and bars, mainly playing at jam sessions at the Eldorado Club.

While he was a student attending Rockford Auburn Senior High School, Preacher would travel and play gigs in Chicago, DeKalb, Moline, Rock Island, Des Moines, Iowa, Madison, Wis., Milwauke, Lincoln, Neb., and Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Mich.

In the beginning of his career, Preacher had the booking agent the Ken Adamany Agency, which was the manager for Rockford’s very own Cheap Trick band. Preacher also recorded some of his first music with the Vincent Records Company in Rockford.

After traveling on the road with Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, and the Little Milton Blues Band, he returned to Rockford and attended Rock Valley College to further his education. This gave him the opportunity to do ads for the “Save The Children Foundation.”

As a standby musician, he played with the legendary Chuck Berry, trumpet player, Maynard Ferguson, Leslie West of Mountain, Colo., and the legendary John Denver.

April 11, 2014, Preacher received “in memoriam” The Lifetime Achievement Music Award at the Rockford Area Music Industry’s 2014 ceremony. Preacher was recognized for his versatile talents of playing and singing music in the blues, rock, pop, jazz, funk, R & B, and gospel categories, plus his ability to play many musical instruments, such as the bass guitar, drums, keyboards, harmonica, trumpet and saxophone.

The Tribute to James ‘Preacher’ Thomas” exhibit will be on display every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. until mid-September at EHM, 1129 S. Main St., Rockford. The museum is handicap accessible.

Visit or e-mail for more details.

Posted June 18, 2014

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