Don’t forget the blues.
Big Mama Thornton was a blues woman. And she could rock. This is from a live show in Oregon in 1971.
Willie Mae Thornton, aka Big Mama Thornton, was born on December 11, 1926 in Montgomery, Alabama. Like many black musicians, she started out singing gospel at her church. At the age of 14, she left home to join a chitlin circuit music troupe in Georgia named the Hot Harlem Revue. She went on to tour and do musical dates with a number of blues and R’n’B figures.
Her biggest hit was “Hound Dog”, which was released in 1952, along with the B side tune “They Call Me Big Mama.” The song was #1 on the Billboard R’n’B charts for seven weeks, and sold almost two million copies.
Three years later, Elvis Presley recorded his own version of the song, and it became an even bigger hit; few people today remember that Big Mama was the first to do the song.
Big Mama was not a beauty queen. And she was big, getting to as much as 350 lbs, although illness later in life made her lose her size. On the above video, she looks almost lean.
But no matter, she could still carry a tune and then some. Blessed with gravelly sounding, booming voice, Big Mama belted people with the blues. She taught herself the harmonica, and that added some depth to her performances, especially live.
She died young at the age of 57, due to heart and liver problems that many attribute to her hard drinking lifestyle.
She left us too early, but her music lives on.