December 11, birthday of Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (1926 – 1984)

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.

Big Mama Thornton, was a self-taught singer and musician, who was a trendsetter in many ways. She had a powerful unique voice and could hold her own against the likes of Screaming Jay Hawkins and Howling Wolf. She was also an openly gay cross-dresser, something which is still vilified in the US some 60 years after her debut in the 1950s. She recorded “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog,” and “Ball and Chain” years before Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin scored hits with these songs, and they cited her as influences on their style.

The biographies online are interesting reads–Wikipedia, for example–and describe her as the “Second Bessie Smith” and discuss her rather racy lyrics.

Ball and Chain

They Call Me Big Mama

Watermelon Man

The Fish

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