Big Mama

Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton

Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton recorded “Hound Dog” before Elvis Presley and “Ball ‘n’ Chain” before Janis Joplin. She was the big black butterfly whose wingbeat helped stir up the rock ‘n’ roll hurricane. Her sexual frankness, gender-nonconforming stage presence, and thunderous self-possession contributed to lasting musical climate change. We haven’t been the same since.