Big Maybelle lived her life at double speed, packing an awful lot of living into a few years. A big voice, with a big personality and a big woman all round, Maybelle had dozens of R&B chart hits and some successful crossover singles in the 50s, and made the charts as late as 1967, but heroin and health problems took her life while she was still in her mid-40s.
Big Maybelle’s first solo record, ‘Gabbin’ the Blues’;
Maybelle was a pretty woman and her voice had great range and dynamic qualities: she could belt out the Blues like Big Mama Thornton or handle a sensitive ballad like a smoky night-club singer. Three of Maybelle’s records went into the R&B Top Ten in 1953, and her live performances at prestige gigs like The Apollo and The Regal in Chicago confirmed her talent and popularity. Quincy Jones produced her hit version of ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ two years before Jerry Lee Lewis’s cover and, in 1956, her cut of Johnny Mercer’s ‘Candy’ made number 15 in the pop charts and was the best selling record the Savoy label had at that point. Maybelle featured at the 1958 Newport Festival and it’s documentary film ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’, and her records continued to find the charts for Savoy, as she effortlessly moved from Gospel to Blues, R&B and Rock’n’Roll. Contract disputes between Savoy, Vanguard and MGM caused Maybelle’s career to stall, and her alleged taste for heroin didn’t help matters either.