By Laura Latzko, April 2016 Web Exclusive.
Since the mid-’90s, Kenny Thames has been performing for the local LGBTQ community.
What initially started with a gig at a single bar (Wink’s), led to performances at Flagstaff and Tucson pride festivals, the Desperado LGBT Film Festival, HRC events, a handful of local bars, not to mention his appearances at a local department store, a casino, three churches and private weddings.
When the Kenny Thames Combo takes the Bistro Stage from 1 to 1:45 p.m. April 3, it will mark his 10th performance as part of the Phoenix Pride festival.
“I do a lot for the LGBTQ community because they embraced me,” Thames said. “They accepted my music.”
The Kenny Thames Combo, a five-piece jazz band, consists of Thames on the keys, Lonze Reynolds, Jr. on saxophone, Elias Armendariz on bass, Bill Gouge on guitar and William David Riley Gilliard on percussion.
While Thames has scaled back on performing in recent years, he said he enjoys having more time to teach and spend with his family; however, he still loves being up on stage.
“It’s a time for me to play for me,” Thames said. “It’s a total release because I don’t get to play at home like I used to.”
Thames, who has released five albums and an audio book and plans to put out a new album this year, describes much of his original music as “inspirational.”
Thames is best known for his song “God Loves Ugly,” for which he won a nationwide songwriting contest. He also wrote the bluesy song “You’re Gone,” a comical tune about a breakup, and “Solitude,” a reflective song about his mother’s final moments of life.
Growing Up Thames
Growing up in a strict Pentecostal household, music was the only form of entertainment Thames was allowed.
The pianist grew up in a musical family. His father, a pastor in Phoenix, played the bass guitar in a honky tonk band and traveled around with a gospel group; his mother, one of Thames’ biggest supporters throughout his life, was a vocalist; and all of his siblings took at least a year of piano.
“It’s definitely in our blood, and it helped that it was the one thing we could do that wasn’t a sin,” Thames said, adding that music has continued to be an important part of who he is.
According to Thames, who has been playing the piano since age 5 and teaching since age 15, his goal is to inspire as well as learn from his 40 students, who range in age from 5 to 92.
“I came back to teaching because it is my passion,” he said. “There’s something fulfilling in imparting your knowledge to others.”
Beyond Phoenix Pride, the Kenny Thames Comb plays several times a week: Wednesdays at Harley’s Italian Bistro, Fridays at Cruisin’ 7th and Sundays at Pat O’s Bunkhouse.