Montgomery native Willie Mae, Big Momma, Thornton was an influential African American blues singer and songwriter whose career extended from the 1940s to the early 1980s. She is best known for her gutsy rhythm and blues recording of “Hound Dog” and for her original song “Ball and Chain”.
Her exuberant “Hound Dog” was released nationwide in 1953 and soon topped the R&B charts, but despite its sale of two million copies Thornton received only $500 in compensation. In contrast, Elvis Presley’s 1956 version, brought him both fame and considerable financial reward. A most notorious example of the inequity that often existed when a black artist’s original was covered by a white artist.
In the late 1960s, Thornton made several seminal recordings— backed by Blues legends Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins—Thornton’s compositions include more than 20 blues songs. Willie Mae Thornton was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984.