“Fifty years have passed in a flash,” says pianist, songwriter, and vocalist Marcia Ball of her long and storied career. Ball, the 2018 Texas State Musician Of The Year, has won worldwide fame and countless fans for her ability to ignite a full-scale roadhouse party every time she takes the stage. Born in Orange, Texas and raised in Vinton, Louisiana, her deep Acadian heritage and a lifetime of absorbing Gulf Coast rhythm and blues is evident in her original songs and the classics she chooses to cover. This has made her a one-of-a-kind favorite with music lovers all over the world. With each new release, her reputation as a profoundly soulful singer, a boundlessly talented pianist and a courageous, inventive songwriter continues to grow. Her love of the road has led to years of soul-satisfying performances at festivals, concert halls and clubs.
Marcia grew up in a family whose female members all played piano and she began taking lessons at age five, playing old Tin Pan Alley and popular music tunes from her grandmother’s collection. But it wasn’t until she was 13 that Marcia discovered the power of soul music. One day in 1962, she sat amazed as Irma Thomas performed on a show at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans and delivered the most spirited and moving performance the young teenager had ever seen. A few years later she attended Louisiana State University and after dropping out to explore the brave new hippie world of the late 1960s, she was invited to try out for a blues-based rock band called Gum. She made the cut and her future was set.
In 1970, Ball left Baton Rouge for San Francisco. Her car broke down in Austin, and while waiting for repairs she fell in love with the city and decided to stay. It wasn’t long before she was performing in local clubs with a band called Freda And The Firedogs, a group that pioneered the Progressive Country movement, which attracted many musicians and significant media attention to Austin. It was around this time that she discovered Professor Longhair, the seminal New Orleans piano player. “Once I found out about Professor Longhair,” recalls Ball, “I knew I had found my direction.”
When Freda And The Firedogs broke up in 1974, Ball launched her solo career and began touring outside of Texas and Louisiana. She signed with Capitol Records in 1977, debuting with the country-rock album Circuit Queen. As she created and honed her own sound, she released six critically acclaimed titles on the Rounder Records label during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990, Ball—collaborating with Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton—recorded the hugely successful Dreams Come True on the Antone’s label. At the end of 1997, Marcia finished work on a similar “three divas of the blues” project for Rounder, this time in the distinguished company of Tracy Nelson and her longtime inspiration, Irma Thomas. The CD, Sing It!, was released in 1998 and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Marcia Ball has appeared many times on national television over the years, including the PBS special In Performance At The White House along with B.B. King and Della Reese, Austin City Limits and HBO’s Treme. She performed in Piano Blues, the film directed by Clint Eastwood included in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series which aired on PBS television nationwide in 2003. Marcia also appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman with The New Orleans Social Club, where she not only reached millions of people, but also helped to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, she had a role in the independent film Angels Sing starring Harry Connick, Jr., Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson. In 2017 she performed on NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas, live from The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Ball joined Alligator Records in 2001 with the release of the critically acclaimed Presumed Innocent. The CD won the 2002 Blues Music Award for Blues Album Of The Year. Her follow-up, So Many Rivers, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and won the 2004 Blues Music Award for Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year as well as the coveted Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year award. Her next release, Live! Down The Road, released in 2005, also garnered a Grammy nomination, as did 2008’s Peace, Love & BBQ (the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart). She holds eleven Blues Music Awards, ten Living Blues Awards, and five Grammy Award nominations. 2010’s Grammy-nominated Roadside Attractions and 2014’s The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man successfully grew her fan base even further.
She has been inducted into both the Gulf Coast Music Hall Of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. The Texas State legislature named her the official 2018 Texas State Musician. In 2018, Marcia was inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame.