Mabel Louise Smith was born in Jackson, Tennessee in 1924. She started singing and playing piano professionally as a teenager, working with Dave Clark’s Memphis Band, the all female International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra. Her solo career began in 1947, when she recorded a few sides for King Records with Oran “Hot Lips” Page, but it didn’t really take off until she signed with Okeh in 1952. Producer Fred Mendehlson convinced Mabel to take the stage name of Big Maybelle.
Maybelle’s debut single featured the B side “Gabbin’ Blues,” co-written and co-performed by Rose Marie McCoy. Radio play for that song pushed it up to #3 on Billboard’s R&B chart.
1954’s “My Country Man” extolled the virtues of the simple pleasures offered by country life with the right man—especially when
He’s strong as a Hick’ry tree
And he’s the right kind of man for me.
Because I need a man
With a whole lot of energy.