Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Big Mama Thornton, The Original "Hound Dog"

Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton was an American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. She was the 1st to record Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog" in 1952, which became her biggest hit. It spent seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B charts in 1953 and sold almost two million copies. However, her success was overshadowed three years later, when Elvis Presley recorded his more popular rendition of "Hound Dog".                                                                   Similarly, Thornton's "Ball 'n' Chain" (written in 1961 but not released until 1968) had a bigger impact when performed and recorded by Janis Joplin in the late 1960s. Thornton's performances were characterized by her deep, powerful voice and strong sense of self. She tapped into a liberated black feminist persona, through which she freed herself from many of the expectations of musical, lyrical, and physical practice for black women. She was given her nickname, "Big Mama," by Frank Schiffman, manager of Harlem's Apollo Theater, due to her big voice, size, and personality. Thornton made it a point to use her voice to its full potential, once stating that she was louder than any mic and that she didn’t want a mic to ever be as loud as she was.
Feminist scholars such as Maureen Mahon often praise Thornton for subverting traditional roles of African American women. She added a female voice to a field that was dominated by white males, and her strong personality transgressed patriarchal and white supremacist stereotypes of what an African American woman should be. This transgression was an integral part of her performance and stage persona.  Even Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin admired her unique style of singing and started to incorporate elements of that style into their own works. Her vocal sounds and style of delivery are key parts of her repertoire that are recognizable in Presley and Joplin's work.
 During her career, Thornton was nominated for the Blues Music Awards six times. In 1984, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In addition to "Ball 'n' Chain" and "They Call Me Big Mama," Thornton wrote twenty other blues songs. Her "Ball 'n' Chain" is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of the "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll".

No comments:

Post a Comment