As a local musician and radio show host, Thomas knows his way around the microphone
Lexington music lovers may be familiar with DeBraun Thomas’ voice – not only his singing voice, which you may have heard during one of his numerous gigs over the years with music projects Relic Delic, Memory Lane Gang and the Smithdogs, but also his radio voice, which he has broadcast weekly for years as the host of WRFL radio show “Crunkadelic Funk Show.” A recent University of Kentucky journalism graduate, Thomas recently put the weekly radio show on the shelf in order to focus on juggling his music along with three part-time jobs, including a recent appointment as Assistant to the Operations Manager at local NPR affiliate WUKY.
“Apparently all three of my jobs are very, very connected – I work with kids and I work with drunk people,” he said with a laugh, referring, respectively, to the work he does at the after-school program Boys & Girls Club as well as at the bar, restaurant and music venue Willie’s Locally Known. “At Willie’s, it’s very much similar to what I’m doing at WUKY, in that I do a little bit of everything.”
Thomas said that working with kids helps keep him grounded, and keep his ego in check.
“Playing in bars and going out – it’s very easy to get lost in all that,” he said. “Working with children kind of humanizes things and brings me back to reality, because you may think you may have a little bit of an ego when you’re out, and then a kid tells you ‘Hey Mr. DeBraun, you smell bad.’
“When I graduated school and I started working at the Boys & Girls Club, I told myself that I was no longer going to have a job that was not meaningful in some way,” he added.
Thomas’ accomplishments at WUKY include spearheading a weekly segment called “Local Music Mondays,” which highlights a different local musician each week; the segment, which airs on Monday mornings, has become an increasingly popular feature on the station’s website. Thomas says his goal with the weekly installment is to increase the station’s connection with the local music scene, as well as to increase public awareness of Lexington’s array of talented musicians.
“I’m really trying to make it very diverse and not just focus on a particular genre,” he said. Recent artists featured have included Justin Wells, from Fifth on the Floor; hip hop artist Shiesty Khrist; and blues rock guitarist Eric Cummins.
Another feather in Thomas’ public radio cap is hosting and producing an hour-long program called “The Unghosting of Medgar Evers.” The multi-media piece, produced at WUKY and available for public radio stations across the country to pick up, centers on a collection of poems that Kentucky poet laureate Frank X. Walker wrote about Evers, a civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1963, set against a backdrop of carefully curated songs from that year. Historical context provided by University of Kentucky professors Everett McCorvey and Gerald Smith are woven throughout the piece, which Thomas calls a “soundscape of 1963.”
“There’s only one song on the entire thing that was released after 1963, but it was recorded in 1963 so I let it slide,” Thomas said. “It’s basically a tribute to a man who doesn’t necessarily get the credit that he deserves.”
Thomas – a Menlo Park, Calif., native who says he originally got into radio after learning about funk and soul icon Sly Stone’s history as a disc jockey – manages to find time to devote to his own music, playing regular gigs with local acts the Smithdogs and Memory Lane Gang and recording his first solo album at Shangri-La Studio. A longtime disciple of funk, soul and blues, Thomas says he’s been trying to expand upon his style, a task that has been encouraged through playing regularly with any number of talented local musicians, including Memory Lane Gang bandmates Daniel Mohler and Smith Donaldson.