Facts about Willie Thornton
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton Biography
Willie Mae Thornton toured the south as a blues singer in the 1940s, then became a star in the 1960s when blues music experienced a popular revival.
She is also remembered for her hit, “Hound Dog” in 1953, recorded four years before Elvis Presley made the song even more famous.
Thornton earned the nickname ‘Big Mama’ both for her powerful voice and her ample girth. She wrote and sang blues songs, played the harmonica and taught herself to play the drums.
In the 1960s “Big Mama” Thornton moved from Texas to California and continued to tour throughout America and Europe. Her original song, “Ball ‘n’ Chain” was performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and that classic recording revived interest in Thornton’s career.
Big Mama Thornton seized the opportunity and released more records, including a gospel album, Saved (1971), but her career has hampered by bad health, apparently from years of alcohol abuse.
Thornton was found dead of heart failure at the age of 57. She was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1984.