Big Mama Thornton biography
Born: December 11, 1926, Montgomery, Alabama
Died: July 25, 1984, Los Angeles, California
Also known as: Willie Mae Thornton
Big Mama Thornton was a great blues vocalist in the tradition of Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie and Ma Rainey, and was also a drummer and harmonica player. She had considerable success with her 1953 recording of “Hound Dog,” which reached number 1 on the R&B charts and stayed there for seven weeks. (Three years later the song was immortalized by Elvis Presley.) Thornton began her professional singing career at the age of 14, touring the South with the Hot Harlem Revue. She later moved to Houston, Texas where she did some recording and worked with Johnny Otis and Junior Parker, among others. In the early sixties she settled in San Francisco, playing in local blues clubs as well as touring with blues festivals. Thornton continued to perform until her death in 1984. Among her recordings is “Ball ‘n Chain,” recorded in 1965, which Janis Joplin covered three years later.
Essential listening: “Hound Dog,” “Ball and Chain,” “Just Like a Dog,” “I Smell a Rat,” “Stop Hoppin’ on Me”