Billboard called her “a killer pianist and a great singer/songwriter with potent blues, sweet zydeco, soulful, and fast and furious Texas boogie. She’s heartfelt, powerful and righteous.”
In a storied career that includes being named 2018 Texas State Musician of the Year by the Texas State Legislature, Marcia Ball has won worldwide fame and countless fans for her ability to ignite a full-scale roadhouse rhythm and blues party every time she takes the stage.
Ball was born in Orange, Texas, in 1949 to a family whose female members all played the piano. She grew up in Vinton, Louisiana, just across the Texas border, and began taking piano lessons when she was 5, playing old Tin Pan Alley and popular music tunes from her grandmother’s collection. It wasn’t until she was 13 that she discovered the power of soul music. In New Orleans in 1962, she sat amazed as Irma Thomas delivered the most spirited and moving performance the young teen had seen. A few years later, she attended Louisiana State University, where she played some of her first gigs with a blues-based rock group called Gum.
In 1970, Ball set off for San Francisco, but her car broke down in Austin. She fell in love with the city and decided to stay. Soon, she was performing with a progressive country band called Freda and the Firedogs, while beginning to sharpen her songwriting skills. She began to delve into the music of the great New Orleans piano players, especially Professor Longhair. “Once I found out about Professor Longhair, I knew I had found my direction,” she recalled.
When Freda and the Firedogs broke up Ball launched a solo career, playing clubs and signing with Capitol Records. She released six critically acclaimed titles on the Rounder label in the 1980s and 1990s and at the end of 1997, finished work in a “three divas of the blues” project with Tracy Nelson and her inspiration, Irma Thomas. The CD, Sing it! was nominated for a Grammy.
Marcia Ball has appeared on the PBS special, In Performance at the White House, along with B.B. King and Della Reese, on Austin City Limits, and HBO’s Treme. She was included in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series on PBS and appeared on NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas, live from the Kennedy Center.
Ball has received many honors, including the 2002 Blues Music Award for Best Blues Album of the Year for Presumed Innocent. Her follow-up, So Many Rivers, was nominated for a Grammy and won the 2004 Blues Female Artist of the Year. She holds ten Blues Music Awards, ten Living Blues Awards, and five Grammy nominations. She has been inducted into both the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Rolling Stone called Marcia Ball’s music “rollicking, playful, good-time blues and intimate, reflective balladry.” Her hometown paper, The Austin Chronicle summed it up best: “What’s not to like about Marcia Ball?” Indeed.