Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was 25 years old when the 19 year old songwriters, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, wrote her first and only hit, tailoring it to her voice. “We wanted her to growl it,” Stoller later told Rolling Stone. Growl she did, and the record sold more than half a million copies. It helped usher in the dawn of rock ‘n roll. That was 1952.
A few years later, 21 year old Elvis Presley recorded his own version, which Leiber initially found annoying. “I have no idea what that rabbit business is all about,” he wrote, “The song is not about a dog; It’s about a freeloading gigolo.” But Presley’s recording went on to sell ten million copies. To this day, few Elvis fans realize that “Hound Dog” started as an anthem to Black female power. Listen to Big Mama here: