“white or black. rich or poor. if you ever had your heart broken you have right to sing the blues.”

Big Mama Thornton (circa 1950s)


Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (December 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984) was an American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. She was the first to record the hit song “Hound Dog” in 1952. The song was #1 on the Billboard R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953. The B-side was “They Call Me Big Mama,” and the single sold almost two million copies. Three years later, Elvis Presley recorded his version, based on a version performed by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. In a similar occurrence, she wrote and recorded “Ball ‘n’ Chain,” which became a hit for her. Janis Joplin later recorded “Ball and Chain,” and was a huge success in the late 1960s.


Willie Mae Thornton wrote “Ball and Chain” which Big Brother changed to a minor-key blues. She applauded Janis’ version of “Ball and Chain,” saying, “That girl feels like I do.”

*from Scars of Sweet Paradise

Big Mama Thornton recorded “Hound Dog” in 1952, 3 years before Elvis




6 thoughts on “Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (Dec. 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984)

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