Mae Boren Axton's contribution to popular music was dwarfed by a singular piece of work. As co-composer of one of Elvis Presley's definitive songs -- "Heartbreak Hotel" -- she was able to live the rest of her life in financial security.
Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Axton attended the University of Oklahoma and gained a degree in journalism, and began work for Life magazine as a reporter. After marrying schoolteacher John Axton, she moved to Jacksonville, Florida, and herself began a teaching career. However, she also began working as a songwriter with local musicians Glenn Reeves and Tommy Durden. It was while working for Hank Snow that she first saw Presley performing in May 1955. Axton and Durden composed "Heartbreak Hotel" within an hour, based on a story Durden had read in the Miami Herald about a hotel suicide. Axton played a demo of the song to Presley at a radio convention in Nashville. Presley agreed to record the song, on the condition that he would be credited as co-composer and receive a third of the royalties. It duly became his first single for RCA Records, and his first U.S. chart-topper, playing a significant part in launching the singer as a global phenomenon. Despite this, Presley never used any other Axton composition (though he did record "Never Been to Spain," written by her son, Hoyt Axton).
"Heartbreak Hotel" was her only hit composition, although Axton did write material for other artists, including Patsy Cline ("Pick Me Up on Your Way Down"), Wanda Jackson ("Honey Bop"), and Hank Snow ("What Do I Know Today"). She also wrote the sleeve notes to the Elvis tribute album The King Is Gone, by Ronnie McDowell. Her son, Hoyt, eventually became a successful solo artist, and later a film actor. Mae Axton continued to work in publicity and radio, and, in 1973, published her memoir, Country Singers as I Know 'Em. Hoyt Axton also recorded for the record label his mother started in 1992, DPJ Records. Mae passed away in 1997, at the age of 82.