Big Mama Thornton

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Big Mama Thornton

Willie Mae Thornton (Montgomery, Alabama, December 11, 1926 – Los Angeles, California, July 25, 1984), better known as Big Mama Thornton , was an American singer of blues and rhythm and blues. He also played the harmonica and the drums. Stereotype of blues vocalist, his voice was passionate and exuberant, tending to volume shifts. Her strong sense of independence probably deprived her of having achieved more contacts that would have driven a career that was not overly successful. Among the influences that can be appreciated are those of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Mahalia Jackson and Julia Lee. She was the first to achieve great success with the song “Hound Dog”, a song written for her by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952. The song was number one on the Billboard charts for seven weeks.

Big_Mama_Thornton’s Biography

His father was a preacher and his mother sang in the church. The beginnings of Thornton took place in the church, but instead of dedicating himself to gospel, he preferred blues. When he turned fourteen he left home to tour with the Hot Harlem Revue by Sammy Green during the 1940s, staying in this show until 1948 when he landed in Houston. Nobody taught him to sing or play the harmonica and the drums.

Thornton made his first recording in 1950 for a small Houston label. The recording was made under the name of the Harlem Stars, although with Willie Mae singing. In 1951 he was definitively introduced to the Houston musical circuit when he signed with Peacock Records. He debuted that year with “Partnership Blues”, accompanied by the band of trumpeter Joe Scott. During her stay in Houston she met and observed many of the great blouses like Junior Parker, who would greatly influence her harmonica style, Lightnin ‘Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, Clarence Gatemouth Brown and many others.

It was his third work for Peacock, with the band of Johnny Otis, with which he managed to triumph in 1952; above all, with the song Hound Dog, which would later be sung by Elvis Presley.

In any case, it was accidental. In spite of other good works, like “I Smell to Rat”, “Stop Hoppin ‘on Me”, “The Fish” and “Just like a Dog”, never again had such a success. At the beginning of the sixties, his works for Irma, Bay-Tone, Kent and Sotoplay were not very successful, but a series of titles for Arhoolie Records and Mercury between 1968 and 1970 managed to revitalize his career.

In the 1970s, his addiction to drinking began to seriously damage his health. He suffered a serious traffic accident, although he was able to recover and return to perform at the 1983 Newport Jazz Festival and record a live album, The Blues-A Real Summit Meeting, with other great artists of the genre such as Muddy Waters, BB King , and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Thornton died of a heart attack on July 25, 1984, at 57 years of age. His remains are found in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

More Facts about Big Mama Thornton

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