Monday, March 23, 2009

"Howling Blues & Dirty Dogs": The life and times of Big Mama Thornton - for LA peeps

This piece comes to you from my very first guest blogger, my Dad, Jeff Freedman:

If you happen to be in Los Angeles any weekend between now and April 12, run, do not walk, to the Stella Adler Theater on Hollywood Blvd. to see national treasure Barbara Morrison as "Big Mama" Willa Mae Thornton in "Howlin' Blues and Dirty Dogs," a musical about the legendary blues pioneer.

Elvis Presley is connected in immortality to the blues crossover anthem "Hound Dog." Few know that this 12 bar blues tune was written by Los Angeles natives Leiber and Stoller for Thornton, not for Elvis. She received only $500 for her recording, which became an R&B hit three years before Elvis' recording helped launch him into international
stardom. Thornton had her share of success, but questions of race and economic power deprived her of the success in the 1950's that flowed to white artists. She died at age 57, poor and forgotten, in L.A. in 1984, a victim of alcoholism on top of her diabetes.

Barbara Morrison, an amazing talent in her own right, delivers an emotional depiction of Big Mama, and lends her own fantastic voice to the performance, which combines original music as well as tunes from the 50's. (The actual song "Hound Dog" is not part of the performance,
probably because Lieber and Stoller are still quite alive and this production did not obtain usage rights.) Other characters in the show include the tragic Johnny Ace, an outstanding singer, who died at age 25, and local legend Johnny Otis (of "Hand Jive" fame) who is still
quite alive at age 88.

Morrison is backed by a talented group of singers/actors playing multiple roles, plus a great blues quartet on piano, guitar, bass and drums.

There are many yet untold stories about the founders of modern music. Movies like "Ray" and "Cadillac Records" are helping to set the record straight about the early days of the genre. Plays and movies about Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, etc. are yet to be written. This story, about Big Mama, needs to be heard. Her time has come.

The Stella Adler Theater is at 6773 Hollywood Blvd, just east of Highland.

Phone number is 310-462-1439. Also check
Go see it!

Buy tickets here.

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