On March 1 at 7 pm, the Stone Center will present a solo dramatic performance by multi-talented performer Azusa SHESHE Dance entitled Houn’ Dawg: Life and Times of Big Mama Thornton. The award-winning production chronicles the life of Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, who was the first to record the iconic song "Hound Dog" in 1952; her version held the number one spot on the R&B charts for seven weeks in 1953. Thornton was born in Ariton, Alabama, on December 11, 1926, and had a strong presence when she took to the stage. She brought a strong, gospel-inflected and powerful voice that rocked audiences wherever she appeared. That talent, combined with the risqué lyrics that peppered her songs, and a penchant and preference for men’s clothes made her a presence to be reckoned with in the male-dominated blues and R&B world. She transgressed other norms when she consistently refused to conform to the sexual norms that prevailed during that period. In addition to “Hound Dog”, commonly associated with Elvis Presley who achieved success with the tune in 1956, she also scored a hit with “Ball and Chain”, successfully covered by Janis Joplin in 1967. Her straight ahead, hard driving performances continued throughout her life until she died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California, on July 25, 1984 at the age of 57. Thornton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984, and “Ball and Chain” was selected for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Azusa SHESHE Dance, like many artists and performers, grew up singing in church. For her, it was Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church. She also studied classical music in the local school system and went on to attend the Tennessee Governor’s School of the Arts. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. After performing on stage in regional productions she moved to New York where she has been active in the theater scene and captured roles in productions at the 13th Street Repertory Theater, the MTA: Music Under New York Program, The Connelly Theater at Columbia University, and the Jamaica Performing Arts Center BRAATA Productions presentation of the original Caribbean musical Welcome to America. Dance’s portrayal of Big Mama Thornton was previously staged at The Camp House, Bessie Smith Hall, the United Solo Theater Festival where it won the "Best Concert Award" for 2018. Houn’ Dawg: The Life and Times of Big Mama Thornton will be presented in the Stone Center’s theatre on March 1 at 7 pm. Seats are going fast, so RSVP today!