“You Lift Me Up” – Abraham Thomas

    From the isolation of the Wind River Reservation to the bright lights of Hollywood and New York City is a stretch, perhaps a dream for many, but it is a journey that Abraham (Abe) Thomas has made.

    Abraham Thomas sharing a laugh with Jon Batiste – h/t Abraham Thomas

    Abe has worked with the musical world’s elite and has come into his own as a professional singer.

    Abraham Thomas singing “Love Me Today” – h/t Abraham Thomas

    Abe, a 2000 graduate of St. Stephen’s High School, an all-state basketball player for the Eagles, and an all-state defensive lineman for the 1999 state football champion Riverton Wolverines, has a story that reaches across the generations, a story of hope, despair, and ultimate triumph.


    Abe, his wife Amber, and their children Sariah (14), Warrior (13), Jacklynne (8), and Sekope (6) live in Eagle Mountain, Utah, south of Salt Lake City on the way to Orem and Provo.

    Sekope is Jacob in Tongan, a proud part of Abe’s mixed heritage of Tongan and Oglala.

    “After I graduated, I went to Chadron State on a football scholarship. I redshirted. It wasn’t a fit for me. From Chadron, I went to the University of Wyoming to play football, but I was injured,” Abe said. “I didn’t really have the education to understand a lot of the things that went on in college. I came back home and was depressed that I had all of these things going for me and I couldn’t find success.”

    Singer, songwriter and producer Peter Hollens with Abraham Thomas – h/t Abraham Thomas

    Depression came with the loss of his dreams of playing college, and then, perhaps, professional football. Abe is a powerful man, as is indicated by his bench pressing 675 pounds for two reps in the gym.


    “To think of yourself as a has-been was my biggest downfall. A lot of people had hope for me to succeed in football and go all the way to the big leagues,” he said. “My Mom had a talk with me. ‘Son you should think about singing. You’ve always had a good voice. You’ve sung at pow wows and sang Native American.”

    Abe’s first studio is a familiar one to many people, he started singing in the shower.

    “It’s the steam and the good acoustics. When the steam was right you could hit good notes,” Abe said.


    His mom continued to encourage him, “I could hear you singing in the shower, and you sound great,” she said.

    “It took her and a couple of Mormon missionaries that visited our house that brought me out of the depression. One was a relative of my dad, on the Tongan side,” Abe said. “He said, ‘Let’s get you to sing.’”

    Ann Hathaway with Abraham Thomas, Samson Funmaker and Tyson Shay – h/t Abraham Thomas

    Musical genres on the reservation are limited to three styles, either Native, country, or rap.


    “There was no R&B, no Gospel, none of that,” Abe said. “I was a really shy kid. It took me going to a leadership conference to break out of my shell. I’ve always wanted to be the guy I am today. I didn’t know if I wanted to sing.”

    Abe is now a member of the group Real Native Soul with Jermaine Bell, Tyson Shay, and Samson Funmaker.

    He started singing locally with Charlie Oldman, Ty Williams, and Jermaine with Native Soul.

    “Our first appearance was the National Anthem at the Fremont County Shootout,” Abe said. “I said holy cow guys, we’ve got something going on here. It didn’t work out, we all had different routes in life.”

    Abraham Thomas with his brother Jermaine Bell – h/t Abraham Thomas

    In 2005, he moved to Utah.

    “I wanted to know my Tongan Side of the family and to grow mentally, physically, and spiritually as a man,” Abe said.

    He had family in Utah, it was at Brigham Young University that his mother and father met.

    “I got back into football, playing arena football for the Utah Blaze,” Abe said. “I had a shot to do a pro day for the Cincinnati Bengals, but the way it works with agents and such it was wild.”

    He never did any solo work aside from singing the National Anthem.

    Remembering Our Culture is a large Native musical group.

    “My cousin introduced me to them, “Abe said. “I tried out for the American Idol Wyoming Contest in Casper. I won the contest, they sent me to Denver, and then to Hollywood. When I went to Hollywood, I was scared. I was intimidated, I didn’t know what I was doing. A producer said we’re going to send you home because you shy away from the camera.”

    Abraham Thomas with the “Twins” Jon Batiste’s design team – h/t Abraham Thomas

    He returned home to Utah and dropped to the lowest level of his life.

    “I went back home. I told myself I have to move I have to grow. I went homeless for about five months, I slept in my car, did spot jobs, and showered in the gyms. It helped me grow as a man,” Abe said. “I knew if I went home to the reservation, nothing would happen, I’d fall back into the routine. I knew if I stayed and toughed it out I could make my dreams.”

    That’s when the opportunity to join Remembering Our Culture came.

    “They asked, ‘Can you sing for us?’ Abe said. “They were so happy. It was their music and their love for the heavenly Father.”

    Finances and requirements were a problem.

    “You have to be in school and fund yourself to be in this group, I was sleeping in my car,” Abe said. “They said we can make something work. I have sponsors to help you make this tour.  I asked them what I needed to do to become part of this group. Slowly it led me to be the man I am today. I got a good job. I got an apartment. Then I called my brother Kelly. (Tongan side) I crashed at his house and got my apartment. Things slowly started moving forward. Sleeping in that car was my rock bottom. Some walls are thicker than others.”

    He started singing with Remembering Our Culture, then then started doing singing gigs with friends.

    He then joined Saints Unified Voice, under the direction of legendary Motown artist Gladys Knight.

    “Heather Godell Parker, a friend got ahold of me, she is Gladys’ right-hand man,” Abe said. “I sang in front of Gladys Knight and made the choir, singing gospel music. That started a fire.”

    Hall of Fame performer James Taylor with Abraham Thomas – h/t Abraham Thomas

    Abe’s shyness remained a problem.

    “Gladys asked me to sing a solo and I turned her down. 200 people in the choir and she picked me. I thought there were other singers more amazing than me, Abe said. “My cousin Leslie (Fatai) pulled me aside, Gladys scolded me, and got after me. Your voice is perfect for this song she said. Gladys said you don’t know who is fighting depression, having trouble in life, contemplating suicide. You have a gift, when I ask you to sing, you do it. I said yes ma’am, that was 2011.”

    By 2011 Abe and Amber had Sariah and Warrior.

    “I told Amber, I wanted to be a solo artist. I always thought singing solo was selfish, but it is a gift,” Abe said. “Gladys is fierce but loving at the same time.”

    He produced his first solo, “You Raise Me Up.”

    “I came out as a solo artist. Yahosh Bonner helped me produce it,” Abe said. “He helped me get in touch with an engineer, a producer, and a videographer. It was cool. I wasn’t doing my music to become famous it was just to send a positive message.”

    With success within his grasp and his dream about to become a reality, a dark force descended on Abraham Thomas.

    “I hit a dark time in my life, it hit hard and fast. I shut down. I didn’t sing anymore. I didn’t want to listen to music. I neglected my family,” Abe said. “The abuse I suffered outside my home as a child, being broke and homeless came back. It all came out in a negative way, and I didn’t know how to cope with it. The only way I thought I could get rid of it was killing myself.”

    One day, the opportunity presented itself.

    Abraham Thomas performing his song “Love Me Today” – h/t Abraham Thomas

    “My wife said I’m taking the kids to my in-laws. I knew that was the perfect time to end my life. I had a big kitchen knife. I was going to thrust that into my heart and be done. I felt like I had a big dark presence. It just wouldn’t let me go. I tapped my chest with the knife so a little blood gave me a target. Then I heard Jackylnne say ‘Daddy,’ I looked up and saw my reflection in the microwave door. I thought what am I doing? The knife was on the ground, a little blood was on my chest.”

    It was around 2016.

    “I go upstairs to look for her and she wasn’t there. I remember my wife took all my kids and they weren’t there. I called Amber and told her what was going on. She was back in no time flat and from there started my healing process. I came to terms that whatever was done to me in my past was not my fault. All these years, I thought it was my fault, but it wasn’t,” Abe said.

    As a kid of both Oglala and Tongan descent, life was different for Abe as a youngster on the reservation.

    Abraham Thomas with legendary Motown artist Smokey Robinson – h/t Abraham Thomas

    “Growing up on the Reservation I was different than most natives. I was darker, I thought I was full blood native. One of my friends said I might be mentally handicapped because mentally handicapped people are strong?” I asked my Mom if I was mentally handicapped, she said no, you’re half Tongan. I said, “What kind of disease is that?”

    He grew up with prejudice most people have never experienced. He was also abused as a child by people outside his home. His refuge was at home. “Mom and my sister Alice were my safe space,” he said.

    “I was called the N-word a lot in my life, from my own people,” Abe said. “I sought out a therapist. I went therapist shopping. I didn’t know there were different kinds of therapists,” Abe said. “Growing up on the reservation, you’re a warrior, you don’t cry, that’s a weakness. I found out vulnerability is the greatest strength you have. I shared it on Facebook and had thousands of messages, that amazed me.”

    Music is his way of expressing his experiences and he went back to songwriting.

    “I wrote a song called “Love Me Today” it’s on Spotify and YouTube,” Abe said. ”I go back home and speak to our youth and let them know it’s ok to share their feelings. I’m a big advocate for suicide prevention and depression. That song got me into traveling and singing.”

    He had a traditional 9 to 5 job at Cosco.

    Abraham Thomas with gospel singer Yolanda Adams – h/t Abraham Thomas

    “Now I’m at the point I’m making decent money as an artist I don’t have a 9 to 5 anymore,” Abe said. “I could care less about fame, but it comes with the music at times. It’s up to you how you determine your fate. Don’t let other people control your fate. I’d like to say I’m famous for lifting up people. I want to be known as a helper.”

    Helping people has led to meeting some amazing individuals including Motown greats Patti LaBelle and Smokey Robinson.

    “This past summer we flew up to Newport, Rhode Island, and did a folk fest with Jon Batiste and Lauren Daigal,” Abe said.

    Abraham Thomas with Christian singer and songwriter Lauren Daigle – h/t Abraham Thomas

    He traveled to Long Island to record his next song, “Raindance.”

    “Jon Bellion is famous among the kids, we recorded in his studio. He plays instruments like Batiste,” Abe said. “Jermaine said let’s play some ball. We’re playing basketball. I said wow, Jon Batiste can play ball. He has a smooth shot. We played it up. It was amazing.”

    The moment was surreal for Abraham, a kid from the Wind River Indian Reservation.

    “I’m playing basketball with a five-time Grammy winner,” Abe said. “This is insane. It was a moment to stand back and say I’m so blessed for this.”

    He went to the Jazz Fest in New Orleans to perform.

    Jon Batiste and his performing family – h/t Abraham Thomas

    “Did you see the whole front row when you started to sing? Everyone was in tears when you started to sing,” Batiste said.

    From the Jazz Fest to the Folk Fest, to the Today Show in NYC then Brooklyn. “Jon called us back to perform in the Macey’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Abe said. “To be in that parade was a dream of mine since I was young. I told my sister I was going to be in that parade one day. We didn’t sing, but we danced.”

    On the Today Show, on national television, he sang Native style.

    “I would love to one day sing my style. At that moment it wasn’t just me, it was bigger than me, I was representing my people, not my people back home, but Native People and Polynesians,” Abe said. “I was representing the people that can’t sing, for people with disabilities. It was bigger than just me. Every moment from then on when I get to sing in front of thousands of people. It was bigger than me.”

    Helping others and allowing them to help you is part of Abe’s message.

    “You can’t proceed without the help of others. There are so many people that helped me. It’s never too late to chase your dreams,” Abe said. “If you have dreams, hang on to them, stay consistent, and work hard for them, sometimes they won’t come true but if you stick with it it’s closer than you know.”

    Abraham Thomas performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – h/t Abraham Thomas

    Abe is thankful for the help Jon Batiste has given him.

    “There are so many doors that Jon opened up for me,” he said.

    The future looks good. “I’ve got some gigs coming up in Utah and a gig in Texas in March. I’m getting people calling me for shows, I’m to the point of looking for a manager.”

    Abraham Thomas singing with Jon Batiste – h/t Abraham Thomas

    Abe suffered a bit of a setback, falling ill for a while.

    “I was sick for almost two years. I had a bad gallbladder,” Abe said.

    He had surgery, and it helped but his heart went into Atrial fibrillation.

    “Everything is normal now,” Abe said. “I’m back on track.”

    The big man from St. Stephen’s has reached the pinnacle of his dreams and the future holds even more promise.


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