Drummer Ben Thigpen is the father of a quite well-known bebop and modern jazz drummer, Ed Thigpen. The former's big sister Eva Thigpen can take much responsibility for all this rhythmic skill being passed along: she started her little brother out on piano and then looked the other way when he switched to drums. By the early '20s Ben Thigpen was gigging professionally in South Bend, IN, in a group led by Bobby Boswell. He also began to accompany a pair of dancers before moving to Chicago and studying percussion with Jimmy Bertrand.
From the mid-'20s the drummer collaborated with many fine classic jazz players from the Windy City scene, including trumpeter Doc Cheatham. For two years beginning in 1927, Thigpen was part of Charlie Elgar's Creole Band, but unfortunately did not record with this interesting outfit. A Cleveland stint in a combo helmed by J. Frank Terry lasted several years prior to what would become the drummer's longest and best-known association, Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy. Kirk, an important leader from the Kansas City jazz scene who nurtured much splendid talent, including the great pianist Mary Lou Williams, maintained a Thigpen presence in his rhythm section from 1930 until 1947. Huge slabs of Thigpen's discography are devoted to this period, with some of the material also released in collections devoted to the aforementioned Williams' early years. Much less documentation is available regarding the drummer's later career. He led a quintet of his own in St. Louis and in the '60s paired up with bassist Singleton Palmer.