Potomac resident Zorita Thomas never expected to release a record.
She and her husband, Alvin, a chest physician at Howard University, moved to their home on Willowbrook Drive from California in the late 1980s. “I decided that I was going to be a wife,” Thomas said. “It’s about taking care of myself and my husband.”
Thomas did that happily for several years, volunteering for several local causes in addition. But the pull of music — she started singing at her childhood church in Michigan at the age of 5 — couldn’t be resisted.
In 1999, she began singing at her church again, this time it was Rockville Seventh-Day Adventist. While she was there, she was heard by Michelle and Wil Anderson of “Certain Sounds” and local recording company. “These people, literally, plucked me up,” Thomas said.
“I would say I offered her encouragement,” Michelle Anderson, Gaithersburg, said.
The Andersons first heard her sing in the mid-90s. “They said, ‘you really need to record,’ and I chuckled. But I listened to them and I started taking piano lessons,” Thomas said.
Voice lessons followed soon after. “She has a very pleasant, very strong voice,” said her voice coach Fred Dixon of Silver Spring.
The songs Thomas sings came to her through an unusual chain of events. “My mom has always wanted me to sing Negro spirituals,” she said.
Over the space of just a few months, she encountered several people who, without knowledge of each other, brought up an interest in the genre. “I said, OK, I’m supposed to sing Negro spirituals,” Thomas said.
Not long after she began her intensive work, she discovered a motivation when a tragedy befell Jeffery Stoll, a good friend who Thomas has known for over 30 years.
Stoll has a severe allergy to nuts, but he accidentally ate some peanuts four years ago. He has been in a semi-comatose state ever since.
“I know why I sing. I sing to help Jeff,” Thomas said.
A portion of all sales from the sale of her CD, “Forget Me Not, Negro Spirituals,” go to help with the care of Jeffery Stoll, which costs approximately $10,000 per month. “The funds that are generated are philanthropic,” Thomas said.
Thomas, who credits God for her talents, doesn’t stop with helping her old friend. Her voice has carried her into such disparate places as nursing homes and prisons. “Everywhere I travel, I take my music with me.”
Those who are working with her to further her musical career enjoy being a part of Thomas’ charitable efforts. “She’s fun and gratifying to work with,” Dixon said.
“She has extraordinary qualities,’ Anderson said. “Even more extraordinary is how she uses her gifts to benefit mankind.”