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    Photo by Mickie Winters

    “I’m what they call a boomer, you know? I just blast your eardrums off,” Marjorie Marshall says at her home near Shawnee Park. Ever since she was a young girl, all she ever wanted to do was perform and sing. She honed her soul voice growing up listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and locals who rose to national fame such as Helen Humes and Mary Ann Fisher, Marshall’s late friend who performed with and inspired Ray Charles. Whether Marshall is singing Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” or the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” she always makes it her own, her deep voice vibrating rooms. 

    A retiree in her 60s, Marshall is active in the local music scene. Days after stepping up for open-mic night at the calligraphy studio/gallery Lettersong on Story Avenue, she and her band, Marshall Law and the Deputies, finished out the Hippie Reunion show at Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar on Main Street. For that performance, Marshall dressed head to toe in red, with red gloves, plus a flashy headpiece and what she calls her embellished “church lady fan,” both of which she fashioned herself. To promote the show earlier that week, the band appeared on WHAS11’s Great Day Live, where Marshall sang the Tina Turner — make that the Marjorie Marshall — version of “Steamy Windows.” 

    “(Marshall) actually feels the song rather than performs it,” says Kelly Scott Franklin, one of the Freddie Fest organizers. Franklin’s girlfriend and event partner, HeidiJoy Stenson, adds, “She makes you believe it.” Marshall says, “I used to be real shy. I have to convince myself. I have to pump myself up sometimes.” 

    Marshall is a champion for local talent. In the few days I meet with her, she probably calls 30 people a “fabulous musician” or “real talent.” That’s why she’s so involved in the Kentucky Music Heritage Museum Foundation, which is working to bring a music museum focusing on Louisville artists to Whiskey Row. While other museums throughout the state honor country and bluegrass, Marshall says Louisville has contributed to everything from punk to jazz to the blues to opera to orchestral music. She and other board members I interview emphasize the contributions of African-American artists who are often left out of the conversation. So far, thanks to large donations from Louisville natives Robert “Butch” Williams and Doug Van Buren, the foundation has catalogued more than 3,000 artifacts, such as gowns, photos, posters and records. Board member and Lettersong owner Jen Grove acknowledges how these kinds of nonprofit endeavors can move slowly but is working with a five-year plan in mind. “I hate to say it like this, but the collectors are in their 70s and they would like to see it happen,” she says. “They have huge collections that they don’t want to see in a dusty drawer.”

    Grove calls Marshall her hero, saying that she reaches out to the white community and brings the African-American community with her. “At Lettersong she once said, ‘I feel like the proverbial fly in the buttermilk,’” Grove says. “My sister told her, ‘No, Marjorie, you are more like Bavarian chocolate.’ We all just laughed.”

    Marshall wasn’t as active when she was younger because she was raising her family. “I’m the greatest great-granny,” she says. “They call me ‘the Triple G.’ That’s my stage name.” Before retiring from the Youth Detention Center a few years ago, kids there called her the OG. “Because I kind of became their mother figure — and I didn’t take no stuff from them,” she says.

    “It’s time to do my thing,” she says. “I’m not done until I’m dead and I’m not dead yet, so I’m gonna kick my heels up and do my thing as long as I can.”

    This originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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