Chuck Stewart’s photography provided by Fireball Entertainment Group, courtesy of Chuck Stewart Photographs of John Coltrane, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Cynthia Shearer is the author of two works of fiction, The Wonder Book of the Air and The Celestial Jukebox. Her work has appeared in such publications as TriQuarterly, The Missouri Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Formerly a curator of William Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi, she now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and teaches at Texas Christian University.
Willie Mae Thornton was one of the crucial donors in the transfusion of black Southern blues into two separate veins of white rock & roll in America. Born in southern Alabama in 1926, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame the same year she died, in 1984. Although she could not read music, she was a respected colleague of Robert “Junior” Parker, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, B. B. King, Gatemouth Brown, Bobby “Blue” Bland, James Cotton—everybody who was anybluesbody. But Big Mama’s name comes up today mostly in discussions of two songs that tethered her to white rock & roll history.
Jazz owes its origins to the bump and grind of turn-of-the-century brothels and the colored waif orphanages of the South’s great cities, but where is the wellspring of swing? Swing, children, begins with Fletcher Henderson, one of the great big band leaders for the ages.