Big Maybelle

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Big Maybelle
Birth name Mabel Louise Smith
Also known as America's Queen Mother of Soul
Born (1924-05-01)May 1, 1924
Jackson, Tennessee, United States
Died January 23, 1972(1972-01-23) (aged 47)
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Genres R&B, blues, gospel
Occupation(s) Vocalist
Years active 1936–1972
Labels King Records, Okeh, Savoy, Epic, Brunswick, Scepter, Chess, Port, Rojac, Encore

Mabel Louise Smith (May 1, 1924 – January 23, 1972),[1] known professionally as Big Maybelle, was an American R&B singer and pianist. Her 1956 hit single "Candy" received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.[2]

Childhood and musical background[edit]

Born in Jackson, Tennessee, United States, Big Maybelle sang gospel as a child and by her teens had switched to rhythm and blues. She began her professional career with Dave Clark's Memphis Band in 1936, and also toured with the all female International Sweethearts of Rhythm.[3] She then joined Christine Chatman's Orchestra as pianist, and made her first recordings with Chatman in 1944, before recording with the Tiny Bradshaw's Orchestra from 1947 to 1950.[4]

Her debut solo recordings, recorded as Mabel Smith, were for King Records in 1947, when she was backed by Oran "Hot Lips" Page, but she had little initial success.

Okeh Records[edit]

In 1952 she was signed by Okeh Records, whose record producer Fred Mendelsohn gave her the stage name 'Big Maybelle' because of her loud yet well-toned voice.[5] Her first recording for Okeh, "Gabbin' Blues", was a number 3 hit on the Billboard R&B chart, and was followed up by both "Way Back Home" and "My Country Man" in 1953.

In 1955 she recorded the song "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On", produced by up-and-coming producer Quincy Jones,[6] a full two years before rockabilly then rock and roll singer Jerry Lee Lewis's version. Lewis has credited Smith's version as being the inspiration to make his version much more louder, raunchy and raucous, with a driving beat and a spoken section with a come-on that was considered very risque for the time.

Savoy Records[edit]

More hits followed throughout the 1950s, particularly after signing with Savoy Records later in 1955, including "Candy" (1956), one of her biggest sellers.

During this time she also appeared on stage at the Apollo Theater in New York City in 1957, and at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival she sang Jazz on a Summer's Day, which was filmed at the festival along with Mahalia Jackson and Dinah Washington onstage.[7]

Career decline and health problems[edit]

After 1959 she recorded for a variety of labels but the hits largely dried up. She continued to perform into the early 1960s. Her last hit single was in 1967 with a cover of "96 Tears" by Question Mark & the Mysterians[8]


Smith died in a diabetic coma in 1972, in Cleveland, Ohio. She was survived by her only child Barbara Smith, and many grandchildren.[1]

Her final album, Last of Big Maybelle, was released posthumously in 1973.


The album The Okeh Sessions on the Epic label, won the 1983 W. C. Handy Award, for "Vintage or Reissue Album of the Year (U.S.)."[9] In 2011, she was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame.[10]


Chart singles[edit]

Year Single Chart Positions
US Pop[11] US
1953 "Gabbin' Blues" - 3
"Way Back Home" - 10
"My Country Man" - 5
1956 "Candy" - 11
1966 "Don't Pass Me By" - 27
1967 "96 Tears" 96 23


Year Title Genre Label
2007 I've Got a Feelin' - OKeh & Savoy Recordings 1952-56 R&B Rev-Ola Bandstand
2004 The Choronological Big Maybelle 1944-1953 R&B Classics R&B
2001 Maybelle's Blues R&B Sony Special Product
2001 Savoy Blues Legends: Candy!(Original recording remastered) R&B Savoy Jazz
2001 Half Heaven Half Heartache: The Brunswick Recordings R&B Westside UK
1998 Very Best of Big Maybelle: That's All R&B Collectables
1996 The Last of Big Maybelle R&B Muse Records
1995 Blues, Candy and Big Maybelle R&B Savoy Jazz
1994 Maybelle Sings the Blues R&B Charly UK
1994 The Complete OKeh Sessions 1952-55 R&B Sony
1973 The Last of Big Maybelle R&B Paramount
1968 The Gospel Soul of Big Maybelle Gospel Brunswick
1967 Got a Brand New Bag R&B Rojac
1967 Gabbin' Blues R&B Encore
1966 Saga of the Good Life and Hard Times R&B Rojac
1964 The Soul of Big Maybelle R&B Scepter
1962 What More Can a Woman Do? R&B Brunswick
1958 The Blues Mammy Webster sings W.C.Handy R&B CUB/Savoy
1958 Blues, Candy and Big Maybelle R&B Savoy
1958 Big Maybelle Sings R&B Savoy
1954 Big Maybelle R&B Epic

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Allmusic biography
  2. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame Database
  3. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues - From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 92. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  4. ^ Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues, Penguin Books, p. 40 (2001) - ISBN 0-14-100145-3
  5. ^ Nigel Williamson, The Rough Guide To The Blues (2007) - ISBN 1-84353-519-X
  6. ^ The Story of Big Maybelle
  7. ^ Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960)
  8. ^ Larkin, Colin. The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Guinness, page 243, (1992) - ISBN 0-85112-939-0
  9. ^ The Blues Foundation database
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 57. ISBN 0-89820-155-1. 
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 31. 

External links[edit]