Big Mama Thornton was born Willie Mae Thornton in Montgomery, Alabama today (December 11) in 1926.
Thornton has held influence over several genres of music. Her 1952 hit song “Hound Dog” made Elvis Presley world famous.
Janis Joplin produced a gut wrenching remake of big Mama’s composition “Ball and Chain.”
Big Mama grew up in the church and was proficient on several instruments.
Big Mama’s mother died when she was 14, forcing he to clean a local saloon, where she would be discovered.
For seven years she toured with the Hot Harlem Revue, until she landed in Houston with the legendary Johnny Otis and later with Houston label Peacock, which was fronted by Don Robey.
Robey was reportedly uncomfortable with Big Mama’s open lesbianism.
She was on the road in small clubs, until she ran across songwriting team Lieber and Stoller in New York, where the pair offered her the now famous song “Hound Dog,” which Elvis turned into a pop classic.
Thornton’s version topped the charts in 1953 and sold 2 million copies. She earned a total of $500.