Acclaimed Lawrence singer, pianist to debut her inaugural album in her hometown

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Lawrence vocalist Vanessa Thomas says music is what has saved her life. Now, a long-held dream is about to come true for her as she’s set to debut her first recorded album with her hometown supporters during a concert on Friday.

“This is a lifetime dream, and Friday night is just going to be a celebration of all the music that I love,” Thomas says. “My favorite thing is being on stage.”


“Life Is Like a Song” is a jazz album with some of Thomas’ favorite selections by renowned jazz artists, she says. The project is a collaboration with Lied Center of Kansas, where she recorded the entirety of the album live on stage last year, and a group of Lawrence and Kansas City-area musicians, according to the concert event page. After performing all across the country, Thomas says she is excited to share this life accomplishment for the first time at home.

Thomas is also a longtime Lawrence vocal teacher and guest piano accompanist for high school choir departments, but community members may not know the extent of her singing career because it’s mostly outside of Lawrence, such as traveling and performing regularly with Grammy Award-winning trumpet player Doc Severinsen. Thomas is best known for her five-octave range and genre versatility, with experience in opera, traditional choral masterworks, jazz, blues, gospel and musical theatre, according to the concert event page.

The emotion she exudes through her craft comes with a story, she says.

“People talk about just the sheer emotion and joy that they hear or pain in my voice and how I emote when I sing, and I don’t always have a chance to explain, but music has been what has saved my life,” Thomas says. 

“I had a traumatic beginning. I almost died when I was very young because I was a victim of child abuse. Even though I don’t have a lot of memories of that, I carry that trauma that resurfaces every once in a while, and it’s hard for me to share emotion, but when I sing, it’s easy,” she says. “When I’m singing on stage, that’s when I’m the most me. The most Vanessa that I ever am is when I’m on stage, and that’s how I healed myself. Music is everything to me — it is me.”

Vanessa Thomas, “Life is Like a Song”

The album title, “Life Is Like a Song,” originates from “At Last” by Etta James — one of Thomas’ most loved songs, she says. It expresses her passion for music:

“At last,
My love has come along,
My lonely days are over,
And life is like a song.”

“It’s a song that people — I really think it speaks to them,” Thomas says. “I mean, of course it’s your standard wedding song, but when people hear ‘At Last,’ something happens. So I always try to do it whenever possible. I’ve always loved that song.”

Thomas on Friday evening will perform all 13 songs from the album, alongside pianist Roger Wilder, bassist Eric Hitt, drummer John Kizilarmut and tenor saxophone player Matt Otto. She also hinted at a potential surprise 14th song for the audience. After the concert, Thomas will sign albums that will be available for purchase there.

The concert is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5 at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive in Lawrence. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $14 for students, and they can be purchased via this link. Tickets can also be purchased through the Lied Center’s ticket office, open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays or by calling 785-864-2787.

The album is also currently available on all major platforms, including Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and YouTube.

Visit this link for more information about the album and concert. Visit to learn more about Thomas and her music.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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