Born in Alabama in 1926, raised in the church, appropriated by white performers, buried in an indigent's grave—Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton's life events epitomize the Blues. In this book, Lynnée Denise pushes past the stereotypes to read Thornton's life through a Black, queer, feminist lens and reveal an artist who was an innovator across her four-decade-long career.
Why Willie Mae Thornton Matters "samples" elements of Thornton's art—and, occasionally, the author's own story—to create "a biography in essays" that explores the life of its subject as a DJ might dig through a crate of records. Most radical of all, she refers to her subject by her given name rather than "Big Mama," a nickname bestowed upon her by a white man. It's a deliberate and crucial act of reclamation, for a name that has become synonymous with Black musical resilience.
240 pages. Hardcover.
About the Author Lynnée Denise is an artist, writer, and DJ. She was the Sterling Brown ’22 Distinguished Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College, and she is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Visual Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London.