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Big Mama Thornton

Willie Mae Thornton, known popularly as “Big Mama,” was not only a successful singer/songwriter in her own time, but a major influential voice in the development of American popular music with her original version of “Hound Dog.”

She herself was influenced by the famous blues singers of the 1920s and 1930s like Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, and Ma Rainey. She was a popular performer famous for exuberant shows. “Her booming voice, sometimes 200-pound frame, and exuberant stage manner had audiences stomping their feet and shouting encouragement in R&B theaters from coast to coast from the early 1950s on,” according to the Encyclopedia of Pop Rock & Soul. She received no formal training, either for voice, or for the instruments she played, like the harmonica and the drums. She was a true musician and was able to watch others play and then try things out until she got them right.

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