Dick Thomas

Singing cowboy

Tuesday 23 December 2003 01:00

Richard Thomas Goldhahn (Dick Thomas), singer and songwriter: born Philadelphia 4 September 1915; married 1935 Maria McGarrigan (died 1989; three sons, two daughters, and one son deceased); died Abington, Pennsylvania 22 November 2003.

A former singing cowboy and radio star, Dick Thomas was best known for co-writing the country standard "Sioux City Sue". In addition to his own version, which topped the country charts in 1945, the song has been recorded by acts as diverse as Bing Crosby, who had a major pop hit with the song in 1946, Kid Ory, Bob Wills, Duane Eddie and Willie Nelson.

He was born Richard Thomas Goldhahn, the son of German immigrants, and raised on a South Philadelphia pig farm. In 1934 he joined the cast of a local radio show as the "Yodelling Cabin Boy", and, following several years working on Philadelphia's night-club scene, headed to Hollywood, where he first adopted his singing-cowboy persona.

In 1944 and by now billed as "Dick Thomas", he made his recording début, cutting eight cowboy songs for the Musicraft label. A year later he became the first act to record for National Records, with a series of discs that included "Sioux City Sue", a song he had co-written with Ray (Max) C. Freedman. Issued just weeks later, the song became a phenomenon. Thomas's rendition rapidly made an impact on the charts and was joined by a clutch of cover versions from acts such as Zeke Manners, Tiny Hill, and the hillbilly novelty act the Hoosier Hotshots. In 1946 Bing Crosby had a massive hit with "Sioux City Sue" and it also served as the title track to a Gene Autry western.

Later that year Thomas finally visited the Iowa city he had immortalised, to judge a beauty pageant. He said later:

When Ray Freedman and I wrote the song, we had no idea that there were so many beautiful girls in Sioux City, but now I know that Sioux City deserves its reputation for having more good-looking women to the square block than any other city in the United States.

In the years that followed, Thomas worked in Las Vegas, appeared in two films, Powder River Gunfire (1948) and Cavalcade of Broadway (1950), and fronted the daily television show Village Barn in New York. He eventually returned to Philadelphia.

Paul Wadey

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