On March 1, 2012, Maureen Mahon, a cultural anthropologist who teaches in the ethnomusicology program in the Department of Music at New York University, will present a lecture entitled “Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton’s Blues and the Sound of Rock and Roll” in the Museum's Foster Theater. The event is free and open to the public.
One of Janis Joplin's prime influences, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton was one of the great female blues singers of post-war years. She descended directly from Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and other major vocalists of the classic blues period. Thornton's raw, belting vocal style made her self-composed "Ball 'n' Chain" a study in blues expression. Joplin remade "Ball 'n' Chain" with the same intensity Thornton gave the song. Joplin's dazzling performance of it was a highlight of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Oddly enough, Thornton is far better known for being the first singer to record "Hound Dog" – the tune penned by the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and later recorded by Elvis Presley – than she is for biting blues numbers like "Ball 'n' Chain."