Thursday, February 26, 2009
"Big Mama" Thornton (1926 - 1984)
Willie Mae ("Big Mama") Thornton (December 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984) was an American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. She was the first to record the hit song "Hound Dog" in 1952. The song was #1 on the Billboard R&B charts for seven weeks. The B-side was "They Call Me Big Mama," and the single sold almost two million copies. Three years later, Elvis Presley recorded his version, based on a version performed by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. In a similar occurrence, she wrote and recorded "Ball 'n' Chain," which became a hit for her. Janis Joplin later recorded "Ball and Chain," and was a huge success in the late 1960s.
As an influence over the music and musicians which followed her, her importance cannot be overstated. Her name and legacy will forever remain among the very greatest of blues legends. Thornton's mighty voice, take-no-guff attitude, and incendiary stage performances influenced generations of blues and rock singers and carried on the tradition of tough "blues mamas" like Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, and Ma Rainey.
Thornton is also the namesake of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls.