Down Home Shakedown

Big Mama Thornton & Her Chicago Friends

Big Mama’s harp

Big Mamma Thornton is joined by John Lee Hooker, J. B. Lenoir, Walter “Shakey” Horton, and Doc Ross for a blues harmonica jam at the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival.

Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was born in Ariton, Alabama. The daughter of a minister, she was first introduced to music at the Baptist Church where she and her six siblings began singing at very early ages. Following her mother’s death in 1941 Thornton left Montgomery at age fourteen and joined Sammy Green’s Georgia-based Hot Harlem Revue touring the South for the next seven years. He time spent traveling with the show provided valuable singing and stage experience. In 1948 she settled in Houston, Texas where she hoped to further her career as a singer. Wille Mae was also a self-taught drummer and harmonica player and frequently played each instrument onstage.

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