女歌手极少数能在蓝调音乐（blues music）一片男声中存活下来.Big Mama Thornton却是这少数人里的极品.她的肺活量不亚于男歌手,甚至有过之而不无及.她是Shouter的代表人物之一.她最初实际上只是以这个名字和Mamie Smith组成一个临时的组合,但却让她声名雀起.
Big Mama Thornton的本名是Willie Mae Thornton,她于1926年12月11号出生于Alabama州的Montgomery,家中兄弟姐妹有7个.她的父亲是在政府里担任行政工作,母亲则在教堂里唱歌.早期的教堂福音影响了Willie Mae,13岁时,她在一次业务歌唱比赛中赢得了冠军,她被Sammy Green发现, 并邀请她去参加滑稽剧Hot Harlem Revue的表演.
正是因为这样,1948年她搬到了Houston,她除了表演之外还在当地一些俱乐部里参加演出.在那里,她被制作人Don Robey看中,并签约出了第一张专辑"Hound Dog".专辑的成功让她得到了一个重要的机会,可以和Bobby Bland,Junior Packer一起全国巡回演出.
在Houston停留几年后,她来到了Texas州,她给Texas这个当时比较封闭的州带去的蓝调音乐影响深远.在当时她和Little Esther,Mel Walker的组合表演赢得了无数掌声和荣誉.1952年她们被邀请去纽约参加表演,她的演出极具张力,表情夸张配合咆嚎的嗓音,现场的观众无不被她征服.
她的昵称"Big Mama",正是来自某个观看完她纽约的第一场Show的赞叹.因为她的身材和个头加上粗野的嗓音.她还因为这样写了一首歌"They Call Me Big Mama".
这张专辑卖了200万张.她的演唱影响了很多白人歌手,Elvis Presley翻唱过她的这首热门单曲"Hound Dog",Janis Joplin翻唱过她的"Ball and Chain".在当时Big Mama就是销量和质量的保证,谁敢和她的嗓子一较高下?
Willie Mae Big Mama Thornton only notched one national hit in her lifetime, but it was a true monster. Hound Dog held down the top slot on Billboards R&B charts for seven long weeks in 1953. Alas, Elvis Presleys rocking 1956 cover was even bigger, effectively obscuring Thorntons chief claim to immortality.
Thats a damned shame, because Thorntons menacing growl was indeed something special. The hefty belter first opened her pipes in church but soon embraced the blues. She toured with Sammy Greens Hot Harlem Revue during the 1940s. Thornton was ensconced on the Houston circuit when Peacock Records boss Don Robey signed her in 1951. She debuted on Peacock with Partnership Blues that year, backed by trumpeter Joe Scotts band.
But it was her third Peacock date with Johnny Otiss band that proved the winner. With Pete Lewis laying down some truly nasty guitar behind her, Big Mama shouted Hound Dog, a tune whose authorship remains a bone of contention to this day (both Otis and the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller claim responsibility) and soon hit the road a star.
But it was an isolated incident. Though Thornton cut some fine Peacock follow-ups — I Smell a Rat, Stop Hoppin on Me, The Fish, Just like a Dog — through 1957, she never again reached the hit parade. Even Elvis was apparently unaware of her; he was handed Hound Dog by Freddie Bell, a Vegas lounge rocker. Early-60s 45s for Irma, Bay-Tone, Kent, and Sotoplay did little to revive her sagging fortunes, but a series of dates for Arhoolie that included her first vinyl rendition of Ball and Chain in 1968 and two albums for Mercury in 1969-70 put her back in circulation (Janis Joplins overwrought but well-intentioned cover of Ball and Chain didnt hurt either). Along with her imposing vocals, Thornton began to emphasize her harmonica skills during the 1960s.
Thornton was a tough cookie. She dressed like a man and took no guff from anyone, even as the pounds fell off her once-ample frame and she became downright scrawny during the last years of her life. Medical personnel found her lifeless body in an L.A. rooming house in 1984.