Mabel Louise Smith (May 1, 1924 – January 23, 1972), known professionally as
Childhood and musical background
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. She then joined Christine Chatman's Orchestra, and made her first recordings with Chatman in 1944, before recording with the
Her debut solo recordings, recorded as
In 1952 she was signed by
In 1955 she recorded the song "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On", produced by up-and-coming producer
More hits followed throughout the 1950s, particularly after signing with
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
Career decline and health problems
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.
Smith died in a diabetic coma in 1972, in Cleveland, Ohio. She was survived by her only child Barbara Smith, and many grandchildren.
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.)." In 2011, she was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame.