Ariton native Big Mama Thornton to be inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Published 9:54 am Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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Legendary blues singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was born in the small town of Ariton and later this year she will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Music Influence Category.

It was announced this week that Thornton will be a part of the 2024 induction class, which includes other legends such as A Tribe Called Quest, Cher, Foreigner, Dave Matthews Band, Kool & The Gang, Mary J. Blige, Peter Frampton, Ozzy Osbourne, Jimmy Buffett, Dionne Warwick, Norman Whitfield, Alexis Korner, John Mayall, MC5 and Suzanne de Passe.

Thornton was born in Ariton and her family relocated to Troy when she was young. She also lived in Montgomery.

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Thornton was introduced to music in church and became a self-taught singer and musician who also played the harmonica. Thornton fell in love with blues at an early age and started to pursue a music career, leaving home at just 14 years old traveling in Alabama and Georgia performing in the 1940s.

Thornton went on to record with a number of bands and even toured Europe multiple times during her career. Her song “Ball ‘n’ Chain” was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” Janis Joplin covered the song in the 1960s, making it a hit.

Thornton was also the first artist to record “Hound Dog” in 1952, which was written for her by Grammy winning producers Leiber and Stoller. Her version of the song sold over 500,000 copies and was a No. 1 Billboard R&B hit. Elvis Presley went on to record another version of the song three years later, which became an even bigger hit. Thornton passed away in 1984.

Thornton has long been considered an underappreciated legend in blues and rock and roll, but efforts have been made in recent years to see that she gets more recognition. Earlier this year, the town of Ariton announced that it would be converting the old Greyhound bus station in town to a Blues Music Museum in tribute to Thornton and other Dale County natives that were pioneers in the genre. A mural was also painted in Ozark in 2022 that prominently features Thornton.

The induction ceremony takes place on Oct. 19 in Cleveland, Ohio.