Willie Mae Thomas, known to early country music fans as Little Ne-hi, was born in Covington, Tennessee; her twin sister, Jessie Fae,
died shortly after birth. In all, she had three younger sisters and four younger
Floy Case wrote in a 1946 article about the WSB Barn Dance that Little Ne-hi got her
start in radio over radio station WMC in Memphis, Tennessee. She later moved
to other radio stations such as KBTN in Neosho, Missouri; KARK out of Little Rock, Arkansas,
KLCN in Blytheville, Arkansas. She worked with such acts as Bob McKnight and Lonnie Glosson
during those stints.
Family members recall that one of the acts she worked with in Jonesboro, Arkansas was
called the Loden Family. This family may be the same one that included the legendary
singer, Sonny James. Back then he may have been known as Sonny Boy Loden.
In Blytheville, she was working with Joe Manuel.
In an earlier 1945 column of Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder, Floy Case mentions an
act playing over WOAI out of San Antonio, Texas and writes
that "Ne-Hi, Walter and Curly form(ed) a good trio" . This trio may have been a part of the
Texas Tumbleweeds act that was mentioned in the same paragraph.
In 1946, she married an emcee in Atlanta at the time, Jimmy Smith. In 1947, she
stopped performing at the behest of her husband.
Family members note that in her later years she was active with the Alcoholics Anonymous
organization. She died in a nursing home, eventually succumbing to Alzheimer's disease.
Credits & Sources
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; September 1946;
New York, NY
- Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; March 1945;
New York, NY
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Bryan (nephew) and
Donna Cullins for providing additional details about Ms. Thomas' career.