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Keith Thibodeaux: Little Ricky’s...

Keith Thibodeaux: Little Ricky’s Highway to Heaven runs through Mississippi

By: Courtney Ingle - June 20, 2023

Keith Thibodeaux

From I Love Lucy to The Andy Griffith Show to Christian rock, Keith’s journey through the entertainment industry is a life-long ride, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. 

Many actors and musicians have called Mississippi home, but none have a story quite like that of Keith Thibodeaux. 

Thibodeaux is known as the drummer for David and the Giants; others know him as Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, a television show that ran from 1951 to 1960. Still others know him as the Executive Director of Ballet Magnificat! His wife, Kathy Thibodeaux, is the founder, artistic director and choreographer for the world-renowned dance organization, bringing the very best of ballet to the Magnolia State. 

Keith’s journey through the entertainment industry is a life-long ride, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. 

“I started drumming on trash cans at two years old,” said Keith.

Throughout his young life, Keith’s father plugged him into drumming gigs at Kiwanis Club and Lion’s Club meetings. By the time he was four, the Lafayette, Louisiana native was a Hollywood star, serving as a regular with the Horace Heidt talent show, earning him the title “Pound for Pound the Best Drummer Around.” 

When the Horace Heidt show went on hiatus, Keith’s father took him to an audition for I Love Lucy with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. After wowing them with his drumming skills, Keith was signed to a seven-year contract to play Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s son, Little Ricky, throughout the 1950s. 

“It was so large and so life changing,” said Keith. “And I got to drum in many episodes – many people know the Babalu episode.” 

After Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez divorced, I Love Lucy ended, and Keith went on to other acting roles in Route 66, Shirley Temple Playhouse, and 13 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, on which he played Johnny Paul Jason, one of Opie’s friends. 

When Keith’s parents divorced, he moved back to Louisiana with his mother. Throughout the 1960s, he stayed in music, playing with the Desi Arnez Jr. Band, as well as creating bands with his friends. His band, The Persian Market, named for the spot in Lafayette, Louisiana, toured into Biloxi, where he met David and the Giants for the first time at the age of 16. 

Though known as a Christian band today, David and the Giants actually got its start as a secular rock band. The group played as the house band for The Vapors Club in Biloxi, and also played in New Orleans. 

It was during this time that Keith began to wrestle with his faith.

“I was raised Catholic, but I wasn’t born again,” said Keith. “After being suicidal, having suicidal thoughts, and majorly clinically depressed, I called out to God.” 

Keith said he was laying on his waterbed in his home when he asked God to rescue him from his life.

“I asked God that if he’s real, to save me, and I’ll serve Him,” said Keith.

From there, Keith’s transformation began to take place and though it wasn’t immediate, change began happening for David and the Giants as well. 

“Finally, each individual began to believe,” said Keith. “They began studying the Bible around 1974.”

It wasn’t an overnight transformation, though.  Keith said the band members would drink beer, smoke pot, and study the Bible. The secular themes of the band remain in place though, so Keith moved on to explore other musical opportunities. 

In 1977, When David and the Giants called Keith and asked him to rejoin the band, which was now a Christian band, Keith had his doubts.

“I wanted to know if it was a genuine relationship with Christ, not just a Christian music band,” said Keith. “I had moved to Atlanta for another job, I was married to Kathy, and within two weeks I was fired. I told her this was the greatest thing that could have happened.” 

Keith said when he called David Huff to claim his spot as the drummer, he was informed that he almost lost out.

“He told me that if I hadn’t called that night, they were going to hire someone else the next day,” Keith said.

David and the Giants began touring again as a Christian band and segued into the 1980s with other Christian rock and contemporary Christian artists such as Petra, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith. 

Keith said Christian music was very different then than the more worship-style Christian music you see today.

“1980s Christian rock was more evangelistic, meeting people where they were,” said Keith. “So, we heard AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, and we thought that we needed to write something that contrasted that. So, we had Highway to Heaven.

David and the Giants still tours and performs today, mixing in Keith’s acting career along the way.

“We play at a lot of churches and different events, like the Mayberry Festival,” said Keith.

The annual Mayberry Festival in Mt. Airy, North Carolina celebrates The Andy Griffith Show

David and the Giants recorded their 40th anniversary album at New Life Christian Fellowship in Pearl in 2017. Their latest album, What Are You Waiting For? was released in 2019, marking the first studio recording since all members of the band reunited in 1996.

While David and the Giants is still active today, Keith is currently focusing his efforts on the International Ballet Competition in Jackson alongside his wife, Kathy Denton Thibodeaux, who won a Silver Medal in the competition in 1982.

About the Author(s)
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Courtney Ingle

Courtney Ingle is a veteran journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience in print, radio, and digital media. Courtney brings her talents to bear at Magnolia Tribune to cover family-centered education and to elevate those unique aspects of Mississippi culture.
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