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This Week in Texas Music History: Big Mama Thornton
by Stephen Becker 10 Dec 2010

This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll celebrate a blues singer who helped pave the way for rock and roll royalty.


Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman celebrates a blues singer who helped pave the way for rock and roll royalty.

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Friday on KXT and Saturday on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.

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Willie Mae Thornton, better known as “Big Mama” Thornton, was born in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 11, 1926. After moving to Houston in 1948, Thornton quickly established herself as a powerful and versatile blues singer. In 1953, she made a recording for Houston-based Duke-Peacock Records that would launch her professional career. Although “Hound Dog” sold almost 2 million copies, Thornton only received $500 for recording it. Three years later, Elvis Presley turned the song into a rock and roll classic. Big Mama made many other recordings and wrote such songs as “Ball and Chain,” which was a hit for Janis Joplin in the 1960s.