Jackie Richardson (photo by Tim Matheson)Some people have the right to sing the blues
The blues heal the soul, like snake venom heals a snake bite.
by Nanette Cormier
[Please note: This review is based on a preview performance]
Oh, all right, it was all true up to the word chaperoned. Willie Mae became a woman while a member of the review which toured from 1941 to 1948. She also earned valuable stage experience.
Her voice is a powerhouse; her sound is huge, and deep, and wide and whole, and you have to close your eyes because you don't want to cry; you hear the blues being sung that clearly.
Jackie Richardson, as Big Mama, weaves a tale of a hard-lived life. 'Blues women gotta be tough to survive', she says at one point. 'The blues ain't just about being sad, or about having no food, or being done wrong by a man; the blues are about dealing with all that-- with life'.
Ms. Thornton talks about her lovers, including Buddy Guy, an American blues guitarist and singer. Critically acclaimed, he was a pioneer of the Chicago blues sound and was an influence on such musicians as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Willie Mae toured with Guy in Europe between 1965-70. And then there was the love of her life, Johnny Ace. Born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, an American rhythm and blues singer, he made a string of hit singles in the mid-1950s before dying of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound on Christmas Eve, 1954. He was 25 years old. 'It took a lifetime to get over the hurting in my heart, but I got over it.' Willie Mae Thornton toured with him as well. Jackie Richardson sang one of his songs, "Never Let me Go", which felt more like a moment dedicated to Ms. Thornton than a blues song.
Read also: Richard Burnett's profile of Jackie Richardson