LifeNotes: Actor-Singer J. Karen Thomas Passes

J Karen Thomas

J. Karen Thomas

Nashville jazz chanteuse, songwriter, radio personality and film, stage and television actor J. Karen Thomas has died at age 50.

She passed away on Thursday morning, March 26. Thomas had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January and had been undergoing treatment since then.

She was known to many for her role as “Audrey Carlisle,” the wife of “Mayor Coleman Carlisle” (Robert Wisdom) during the first season of the ABC-TV series Nashville (2012).

J. Karen Thomas was a vital member of Music City’s theatrical community. She was in the Nashville Repertory Theatre’s 2014 production of the musical Company. In 2013, she won the Circle Award as Best Supporting Actress for portraying “Shug Avery” in The Color Purple Musical.

The local jazz community mourns her passing as well. Thomas’s recordings include Love Just Happens (2013) and J. Karen Live! (2014). She received jazz radio airplay with her 2014 holiday song “Three Words at Christmas.” She has also sung with the Nashville swing band The Time Jumpers.

Thomas was a Nashville native who graduated from Maplewood High and the University of Memphis. Following some theater work in Atlanta, she moved to Los Angeles in 1996 and established herself as an actor with more than 40 guest-starring television roles. Her credits include Criminal Minds, ER, Drop Dead Diva, Ellen, Judging Amy, Charmed, The Jamie Foxx Show, Savannah, That’s Life, Chicago Hope and Army Wives. Her film work included parts in Mutiny (1999), The Tempest (2001), Written in Blood (2002) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), Woman Thou Art Loosed (2004, a mini series) and Itty Bitty Titty Committee (2007).

As a singer, she performed at the Cannes Film Festival, on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and at Disney Sea in Tokyo.

While on the West Coast she met her life partner, fellow actor Colette Divine. They moved back to Thomas’s home town six years ago. Since then, Thomas has acted opposite the late Robin Williams in the film Boulevard and opposite Ashley Judd in The Identical. Both of these features were screened at the Nashville Film Festival. She and Divine both appeared in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

Thomas was also a former disc jockey for Nashville’s Y-107.

She was an active community volunteer. Among the organizations she supported were TreePeople, GLAAD, the Nashville Film Festival, the Belcourt Theatre, Artists for a World without HIV, Plug In America and various Screen Actors Guild (SAG) initiatives.

She is survived by her life partner Colette Divine, by brothers Frank and George and by nephews and nieces.

Thomas’s medical bills are substantial. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations are appreciated at www.gofundme.com/jkareneternallove.

A celebration of her life and tribute/benefit concert will be held on Friday, April 17 at 7 p.m. On Saturday, April 18, at 1:45 p.m. there will be an AKA Ivy Beyond the Wall Ceremony, followed by a 2 p.m. memorial service. All of these events will be at the Center for Spiritual Living, 6705 Charlotte Pike, Nashville 37209.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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