Big Mama Thornton Biography
Willie Mae Thornton, better known as Big Mama Thornton, was an R&B singer and songwriter from the United States. In 1952, she was the first to record Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog,” which became her biggest hit, spending seven weeks at the top of the Billboard R&B chart and selling nearly two million copies. Thornton also recorded the original version of “Ball and Chain,” which she penned.
Her version of “Hound Dog,” penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952 and later recorded by Elvis Presley, topped the Rhythm & Blues Records list. According to Maureen Mahon, a music professor at New York University, “the song is seen as an important beginning of rock-and-roll, especially in its use of the guitar as the key instrument”.
She was born on December 11, 1926 in Alabama. Willie Mae Thornton, nicknamed “Big Mama” because to her large stature, carried on the heritage of great female blues singers who made their mark a few decades before their prime. She was a prominent singer on the rhythm-and-blues circuit from the 1950s until her death in 1984, and she is best remembered for her own composition “Ball and Chain,” which was also a hit for Janis Joplin. “Her booming voice, sometimes 200-pound frame, and exuberant stage manner had audiences stomping their feet and shouting encouragement in R&B theaters from coast to coast from the early 1950s on,” said Irwin Stambler in the Encyclopedia of Pop Rock & Soul.
Thornton grew up singing in church choruses with her mother. When her mother died when she was 14, she was forced to start working and received her first chance to sing in public at a saloon where she swept floors after the usual singer quit one night. She hit the road on the blues circuit throughout the South after joining Sammy Green’s Hot Harlem Review in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1941. She was treated to live performances by blues giants such as Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, and Big Maceo while on tour.
Thornton met Junior Parker, Lightning Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, and Gatemouth Brown after relocating in Houston in 1948, all of whom affected her approach. Her first recording, Harlem Stars, was released in Houston. Following that, she signed with the Peacock label and travelled to Los Angeles to perform with bandleader Johnny Otis, who was well-known in the pop music scene at the time. Famous artists on his trip were Little Esther and Mel Walker. Thornton recorded 30 songs for the Peacock label with the Otis band in the early 1950s that were “outstanding for the vocal presence and overall coherence,” according to Gerard Herzhaft in the Encyclopedia of Blues.
Thornton’s big break came in 1953, when his song “Hound Dog” reached number one on the R&B charts. However, as blues music fell out of favour in the late 1950s, Thornton was no longer in high demand, and she lost her recording contract in 1957. She did, however, continue to perform, playing drums and harmonica with small bands at San Francisco’s neighbourhood blues bars. Thornton reclaimed some of her lost fame in 1961 with “Ball and Chain,” a small hit for her. During the 1960s, her stardom grew as white audiences came to embrace blues music.
Her profile grew as she returned to Monterey in 1966 and appeared at other jazz and blues festivals during the 1960s and 1970s. Her live performances at two prisons were also taped in the 1970s.
She died of a heart attack in 1984 while living in a Los Angeles boarding house.
Big Mama Thornton Discography
|Sassy Mama! (Live)|
|The Way It Is|
|Stronger Than Dirt|
|Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Water Blues Band|
|Big Mama Thornton – In Europe|
Frequently Asked Questions
Big Mama Thornton?
Big Mama Thornton was an African American singer and songwriter. She was born in 1926 in Alabama. Thornton’s family moved to Los Angeles, California, when she was two years old. Thornton began her singing career in the early 1940s, performing with such blues greats as B.B. King and T-Bone Walker.
What Genre Is Big Mama Thornton?
Big Mama Thornton was a rhythm and blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. She was one of the first female artists to be signed to a major record label. Thornton’s biggest hit was “Hound Dog”, which she co-wrote with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
What Is Big Mama Thornton’s Best Album?
There is no definitive answer to this question as everyone has different taste. However, some of Big Mama Thornton’s most popular albums include ‘Ball ‘n’ Chain’, ‘Hound Dog’, and ‘Wang Dang Doodle’. These albums are all considered classics in the blues genre and are highly regarded by both critics and fans alike.
How Many Songs Does Big Mama Thornton Have?
Big Mama Thornton has around 60 songs.