Not to be confused with the reggae/dancehall singer Marcia J. Ball, "Long Tall" Marcia Ball is a blues/jazz pianist from cajun country who writes and sings songs about alligators and fishing and life. She also performs honky tonk standards.
Marcia was born in 1949 in Orange, TX but raised right across the border in Venton, Louisiana. Janis Joplin grew up near where she was born.
Marcia comes from a family of fishers and dancers and pianists. She started playing piano at age 5. Her great grandfather came from Belgium and founded the town Bandford, Louisiana. Her grandmother lived in New Orleans so she made frequent trips there as a teenager. During one such visit she discovered the great vocalist Irma Thomas in 1962. That experience was profoundly influential for her at the time; in 1998 the two collaborated with Tracy Nelson on Sing It! In 1966 Marcia went to Baton Rouge to study at LSU. While there she began a blues-rock band called Gum in which she sang.
In 1970 left the Delta for San Francisco. Her car broke down in Austin so she stayed there and ended up joining a progressive country band called Freda And The Firedogs. Around this time she discovered Professor Longhair and returned to the piano, the instrument she had abandoned at the age of 14.
She went solo in 1974 when the band broke up.
In 2006 she adapted her song "Christmas Fais Do Do" into a book of the same name which explores the history of the music behind the tradition of the cajun "House Party Dance". The book was illustrated by her mother, Hope Mouton. You can hear that song here.
On her website she notes that 3 USD of each sale benefits efforts to rebuild the damage done by Hurricane Katrina. She also has a page on her site in which she dispenses news updates and other thoughts, but does so rather infrequently, probably due to near-constant touring. Here's her holiday advice from 1998:
- Don't shop. Tell everybody you're donating in their names to the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Battered Women's Center, Honduras flood relief, Habitat for Humanity, the local food bank, you get the picture. Then do.
- Don't cook. Take Mom, Dad, the kids, weird Uncle Al out to the Piccadilly, Threadgill's, Mother's, order a pizza. Set the table real nicely and sit around it not stressing.
- Love one another.
Marcia has performed for Austin City Limits and The David Letterman Show as well as many different programs on NPR. She was also featured in the episode of Martin Scorcese's 2003 documentary miniseries The Blues (the one directed by Clint Eastwood) and the 2006 documentary New Orleans Music in Exile.
In 2004 she was nominated for a Grammy for So Many Rivers. That same year she was recognized by the Blues Foundation as being the Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist with the Best Contemporary Blues Album of the year. At the time that foundation's awards were known as the W.C. Handy Awards (or "The Handys") but were renamed in 2006.
More recently, Marcia has been inducted to the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame in Baton Rouge. She has toured internationally, performed at countless jazz and blues festivals, and at Preservation Jazz Hall.
Two of her tracks may be heard here. Her song "That's How It Goes" prompted me to find out more about this living legend.
Information gathered from an interview done with Michael Feldman for Whad'Ya Know and her bio on Gator Records. and her website.
If you want to hear her talk about her life and work, there is an excellent interview of her done by Living Legends Music. You can begin watching that here.