Air Week: July 18-24, 2016
Willie Mae Thornton was a trailblazer, who in making her own rules paved the way for other groundbreaking female artists like Janis Joplin and Madonna. Known as “Big Mama,” Thornton scored her only hit record in early 1953 when “Hound Dog” topped the national Rhythm & Blues Charts, but her career spanned from 1950 to well into the 1970s. Elvis not only recorded “Hound Dog,” which was written by the young, white songwriting duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, but he also took much of his swagger from Thornton, who was known to be blatantly tough and sexual on stage. Besides “Hound Dog,” her other signature song, “They Call Me Big Mama,” ranks among her best material, along with “Rock A Bye Baby,” “Mischievous Boogie” and “My Man Called Me.” Big Mama is also uncredited on a duet with friend Johnny Ace called “Yes, Baby” from 1953. She wrote many of her own songs, but like many artists of her day, did not own the publishing rights, so when Joplin recorded her “Ball and Chain,” Big Mama Thornton didn’t get any royalties from it. This week, Matt The Cat dusts off Big Mama Thornton’s best sides from Peacock Records and even digs up her first recordings for the E&W label under the group name, The Harlem Stars (1950).