Spotlight shines on local musician who overcame abuse to become world-class performer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In this Black History Month spotlight, FOX4 is introducing you to a singer with a velvet voice. Vanessa Thomas' story of pain is insurmountable, but her resilience is inspirational.

"I was abused as a child," Thomas said. "Bones were broken. Both legs, an arm, multiple fingers, head injuries."

She suffered abuse from birth until the time she was 3 years old.

"Physical, sexual. I had been kidnapped by my biological father," she said.

She was abused at the hands of those who should have protected her -- her parents.

"I had all these inexpressible feelings. Music was a way that I could heal. I'm a fighter. I don't want to be a victim," Thomas explained.

Vanessa Thomas

And a fighter she is. Thomas was removed from her home and adopted in 1981 by Gene and Suzanne Thompson when she was 5 years old.

"It was really the best day of my life," she said.

They lived in rural Kansas -- a town of 5,000 residents. Thomas was one of only two black students in her entire school of 400.

"I didn't experience prejudice on a level that you might think that I did. The people were gracious and loving," she said.

But there was definitely a learning curve.

"Obstacles that I consider teachable moments ... like, 'Can I touch your hair?' And the answer was, 'OK.' And then the next time the answer was, 'Nope, you've already felt my hair. It's the same,'" she recalled.

Thomas fell in love with music in Clay Center, Kansas.

"I don't ever remember music not being a part of my life," she said. "I call it 'soul dumping.' The only way that I can really communicate."

Thomas is a world-class singer who performs all over the country, known for her vocal range of four octaves and performance versatility. She play piano and sings jazz, blues, gospel, musical theater and opera.

"I worked every day, and I practiced no matter what."

Thomas credits her success to her unshakable desire for greatness.

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