Women N' Blues: Big Mama Thornton


Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was born on December 11, 1926 in Montgomery, Alabama. She was born into the Baptist church  by way of her father who was a minister and her mother who was a singer. The whole family was full of singers, including her six siblings. In 1940 she left home and joined Sammy Green’s Hot Harlem Revue and was labeled as the “New Bessie Smith”. Although her musical journey developed in the church, she was very versatile. She looked up to other artist like Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie. Her most well known song is “Hound Dog”, that was later sung and popularized by Elvis Presley. In 1969, Thornton signed to Mercury Records and released her most popular album, Stronger than Dirt which charted on the Billboard Top 200. Unfortunately in  Thornton succumbed to alcohol abuse and died at the age of 57. Her talents, sound, and achievement’s helped to inspire many other artist after her.


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

- Big Mama Thornton


Big Mama Thornton didn’t get her nickname from just anywhere. She was given the nickname because of her voice, size, and personality. She had a very particular singing style. She was very loud and powerful. She claimed that her singing came from her own pain and experiences. Her sound was heavily influenced by gospel music but she liked to be original and mix things up. She broke into a genre that was heavily populated and dominated by white males. She was the original voice to one of the most popular songs in the genre of blues music. She broke the stereotype of the “quiet woman” and developed a name for herself. Her personality, voice, and uniqueness secured her spot as one of the most influential women in blues.

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