He strongly influenced the development of piano blues and boogie woogie. Later pianists like Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis named him as an important influence in their own career.
Thomas was born in Houston, Texas into a musical family. When young, he had talent for blues piano playing and composition. Besides Hersal, also his older brother George W. was a very good piano player. His sister Sippie Wallace and his niece Hociel Thomas sang.
He started playing piano in New Orleans. Later he went to Chicago, where his sister Sippie lived. In 1924, he started recording piano rolls and 1925 disk records. He worked solo but also as sideman for Hociel Thomas, Sippie Wallace, Lilian Miller and Sodarisa Miller. Shortly before his death he was on tour with Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. His sister Sippie Wallace recorded seven of his titles: "A Jealous Woman Like Me", "A Man for Every Day of the Week", "Dead Drunk Blues", "Have You Ever Been Down?", "I Feel Good", "Shorty George Blues" and "Trouble Everywhere I Roam". His most famous records are "Suitcase Blues" (8958-A Okeh 8227) and "The Five". Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis named this records under the fundamental boogie records.
Thomas died of food poisoning while working at Penny's Pleasure Inn in Detroit, Michigan.
- Hersal Thomas, "Michigan, Death Certificates, 1921-1952". Familysearch.org. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
- All Music Guide