Big Mama Thornton

Birth Name:
Willie Mae Thornton
Birth Date:
December 11, 1926
Birth Place:
Ariton, Alabama
Death Date:
July 25, 1985
Place of Death:
Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death:
Heart and liver disorders due to longstanding alcohol abuse
Cemetery Name:
Inglewood Park Cemetery
Claim to Fame:
Janis Joplin called her one of her inspirations and Living Blues magazine described her as "two hundred pounds of boogaloo." Of course, fans and musicians alike just called her Big Mama Thornton. A rhythm-and-blues singer and songwriter from Alabama, Thornton was the first to record Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog" in 1952, which became her biggest hit staying seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B chart and selling almost two million copies. Thornton's other recordings included the original version of "Ball and Chain", which she wrote. Stop me if you heard this story but this phenomenal blues artist died penniless in a small Los Angeles boarding house near the airport and now shares a grave with two other family members.


Big Mama Thornton was sitting backstage performing at the City Auditorium in Houston, Texas, on Christmas Day 1954. During a break between sets, Johnny Ace was playing with a .32 caliber revolver. Members of Ace’s band said he did this often, sometimes shooting at roadside signs from their car.

It was widely reported that Ace killed himself playing Russian roulette. However, Thornton’s bass player, Curtis Tillman, who witnessed the event, said, “I will tell you exactly what happened! Johnny Ace had been drinking and he had this little pistol he was waving around the table and someone said ‘Be careful with that thing…’ and he said ‘It’s okay! Gun’s not loaded… see?’ and pointed it at himself with a smile on his face and ‘Bang!’.

Right in front of Big Mama Thornton.

Cemetery Information:

Final Resting Place:

Inglewood Park Cemetery

720 E Florence Avenue

Inglewood, California, 90301


North America


Grave Location:

Section M, Lot 2486

Grave Location Description

Parking at the intersection of Regent and Avenue of Champions, walk across the expansive lawn to the chain-link fence and turn right. Walking an additional 14 spaces along the fence line to find the shared grave of Big Mama Thornton. And that folks is a damn shame.

Grave Location GPS




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