Big Mama Thornton Original “Hound Dog” Singer Finally Entering Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

American R&B singer and songwriter Big Mama Thornton (1926 - 1984) in concert, circa 1965
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Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton is finally being paid the respect she deserves 40 years after her death. She is remembered as one of the women heralding rock and roll music back in the 1950s and her version of “Hound Dog” is often credited as an early influence of rock and roll for many. Her version was a bit more bluesy and soon rose to the top of the charts, spending seven weeks at No. 1. Of course, the song went on to become even more famous when Elvis Presley recorded it in 1956.

Now, she will be inducted posthumously into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on October 19, 2024, in a special ceremony that will be featured live on Disney+ and appear later on Hulu. She will join another rock influence from her time, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was inducted in 2018.

“She broke the mold in terms of what people thought a Black or African American woman should or shouldn’t be doing in terms of yes, her sound, but also her dress and her demeanor,” said Deanna Nebel, Education and Content Supervisor for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “She would frequently wear men’s clothing, which even today, maybe less so than the ’40s and ’50s, but certainly in the 1940s and ’50s, people took note of what she wore and had opinions of what she should or shouldn’t look like or sound like.”

Big Mama Thornton, studio portrait, USA, 1955

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“She is a key blues influence to early rock and roll. And her sound, you listen to her sing. She is extremely rock and roll in her sound. And there’s no shortage of other inductees, and hopefully, even artists today that she has influenced. We’re very excited to welcome Big Mama Thornton into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year,” Nebel continued. “Her story is important because it’s a story about talent.”

Photo of Big Mama Thornton

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Thornton was a self-taught musician with a larger-than-life stage presence as she stood over 6 feet tall and commanded the stage. She left home when she was just 14 years old to pursue a career in music and performed with Sammy Green’s Hot Harlem Revue. She eventually moved to Houston and recorded her first songs in 1950 and found success working with Don Robey.

 Birth of Rock 'n' Roll
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Birth of Rock 'n' Roll

February 2024

"Long live rock," we like to say, but how did it come to life? Revisit the memorable moments, music and movies that made teens go beat crazy back in the 1950s.

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