Willie Mae Thornton

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Big Mama Thornton featured on the album cover of We're Only In It For The Money

Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (December 11, 1926 - July 25, 1984) was an American R&B and blues singer.

One of seven children born into a musical family - father a church minister and mother leading the choir. During the 1940s sang with a touring show where her height and forceful vocals brought her to the attention of Don Robey while performing at one of his clubs and he signed her to his Peacock Record label.

In 1953 while working as vocalist with the Johnny Otis band at Peacock she recorded a song Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had written for her. Hound Dog was a huge hit topping the charts for three weeks. Both Thornton and Otis would later claim credit for the creation of the song. Elvis Presley also scored a huge hit with the song.[1]

In the early 1960's she moved to San Francisco and continued to work the clubs along the west coast. Janis Joplin introduced her to a new generation by recording Thornton's "Ball And Chain", which Joplin sang at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival as part of Big Brother and the Holding Company.[2]

She is name-checked on the cover of Freak Out! and is pictured in the collage on the We're Only In It For The Money cover. [3]

The Mothers Of Invention perform Hound Dog on 'Tis The Season To Be Jelly.


See Also