Big Mama Thornton
Big Mama Thornton was a prominent blues singer, drummer, and harmonica player known for her gritty and energetic vocal style. In addition, she was the first to record two blues songs that made a huge impact on the American music scene. The first was “Hound Dog,” recorded in 1953, which was a number one hit on the Billboard charts for seven weeks and was later famously covered by Elvis Presley in 1956. The other was “Ball and Chain,” which she wrote and recorded in 1961 and which went on to become an enormous hit for singer Janis Joplin.
Big Mama Thornton was born Willie Mae Thornton in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1926. She first became known singing and playing with the Hot Harlem Revue, a band that she toured the South with for seven years in the 1940s. She went on to play with many other blues luminaries including Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Junior Parker, Johnny Otis, James Cotton, and Otis Spann. Thornton died in Los Angeles in 1984.