A new Blues musical, Big Mama! The Willie Mae Thornton Story, stars Canadian jazz legend Jackie Richardson backed by an all-star band including Juno nominee Bill Johnson, Ron Casat and Andy Graffiti.
Willie Mae Thornton began singing in her father’s Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., and by the age of 14 she was touring with the Hot Harlem Revue.
In 1951, Thornton signed a recording contract with Peacock Records and subsequently recorded Hound Dog, the Leiber and Stoller-penned tune that was written for her and stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts for seven weeks. Three years later, the song would launch the career of Elvis Presley.
Like Big Mama, Richardson got her start singing in church. A multi-faceted performer, Richardson has won two Dora Awards (Toronto Theatre Awards) for Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Cookin’ at the Cookery; a Gemini Award for The Gospel According to the Blues and she’s been nominated for Junos, Jessies (Vancouver theatre awards), Betties (Calgary theatre awards) and, in the U.S, an NAACP Image Award.
The soulful revue pays homage to blues singer Thornton: the godmother of rock and roll. With a vocal style not easy to imitate, only a few – like Janis Joplin – have been able to summon Thornton’s mix of raw power and deep emotion.
The show runs until Sunday Aug. 19 in the Belfry Theatre Mainstage, 1291 Gladstone Ave. Tickets start at $25 and are available at 250-385-6815 or online at tickets.belfry.bc.ca.