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Direct Quote: Mama T Brings Gospel to Austin on KAZI

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Mama T
Jen Reel
Mama T

For the past six years and counting, Mama T, also known as Louise Thomas, has played gospel music on Austin radio station KAZI FM 88.7 every Sunday morning from 6:30 to 7:30. A native Texan, Thomas raised three children and taught at the Austin State School for more than 35 years before retiring in 2000.

“Music got me early on. I come up in the church. We had this pageant up in the church. We had this pageant called ‘Three Little Pigs’ and we had little costumes on and did this little dance and I loved that.I used to be a really good dancer.

After my children was born I had to give it up. But back in college, me and my brother would do the swing out. I used to have some little patent shoes with heels on them. We would dance so hard, when I got through those heels would be worn off. Ooh, he would swing me around. He swung me over into the band one time and I just come out of there dancing and he got me and we were going again. Everybody was just around us in a circle watching. They couldn’t believe it.

“I also sung in the choir when I was young. I still do. Oh, golly, I’ll shout. My daughter, Avis, always gives me a song to lead in the choir, but I can never finish it, ’cause I’m shouting out and then she needs to take over. I’m so overcome. A lot of those songs remind me of when I was coming up. Things you go through. Hard times. And I’ve gone through some hard times, you know, coming up. But then God leveled it off.

“I used to go with Avis to the radio station because she works there from 5 in the morning till 9. KAZI was up on Loyola then and I was really scared for her because lots of people wandered around at night over there. So I would go with her to protect her. I was retired then. I just cleaned the station while she worked. One day Avis said, ‘Mama, you’re with me every morning. You could do this.’ I said, ‘No, I’m too old to learn,’ but I would be watching her to see what she does and she said, ‘Yes you can, you can do anything you set your mind to.’ So then I tried. I was so nervous but I did it. People started calling me Mama T at the radio station because I’m everybody’s mama up at KAZI. I think I’m the oldest one. And now everybody I know calls me Mama T. Even my reverend.

“A lot of my listeners like older stuff, because that time of morning I think all these old people are listening. But then I’ve had these youngsters call and I was surprised. And then Spanish-speakers call me. White people call me. And I said, ‘Oh my. God, are they really listening? They like what I play?’ And that’s when I really got into it. The ones that are crying and shouting when they call in, they make me do that too. I tell them, ‘Honey don’t do that because I will tear everything up in here!’ Because I’m into my music. I’m into it. And when they call in like that, that just encourages me more.

“This is my personal collection. It’s what I come up on. I have so many CDs. CDs, CDs, CDs everywhere. And when I talk to the Lord, if something come in my mind, then I have to go looking for that song. He leads me to the right one. It’s personal, ’cause I talk to him. If I did it myself … you can’t do nothing without God. You have to put him first in anything you do. It’s like a little dream that come to you.

“I just think the people want to hear something that’s going to save their souls.”    

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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Jen Reel was an Observer intern before joining the staff in July 2010, first as Web Editor, and most recently as Multimedia Editor. She received a Masters in Journalism with a concentration in Photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was co-chair for the student chapter of the National Press Photographers Association. She has worked in the non-profit sector for the Peruvian-American Medical Society and has been published in Utne Reader magazine, the Village Voice and Pitchfork Music.