“50 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. 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.
In Marcia’s most recent album, Shine Bright, she has put together the most musically substantial, hopeful and uplifting set of songs of her five-decade career. “It is a ridiculously hopeful, cheerful record,” she says, in light of some of the album’s more serious subject matter. The secret, according to Ball “is to set the political songs to a good dance beat.”
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.
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 and 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.”
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.
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.
Since March of 2020 and the onset of the COVID pandemic and subsequent lock-down, Marcia has filled her time with work on a nonprofit organization she co-founded called HOME – Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers, which pays rent and utilities for older musicians in the Austin area. HOMEaustin.org. And she’s getting the band ready to get back out on the road. “I still love the feel of the wheels rolling,” she says, “and the energy in a room full of people ready to go wherever it is we take them.”