Cynthia Simien was back at her usual Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) exhibition hall booth again last week, this year accompanied by her husband Terrance Simien, the hardworking Grammy-winning zydeco artist whom she manages and books out of their Lafayette, La. home base.
This year, though, both Simians were passing out CDs besides Terrance’s: Marcella & Her Lovers The Bronze Age, the auspicious debut release from the self-described Memphis “swamp soul” band fronted by their daughter Marcella Simien. The group has been building a local following at regular venues like Bar DKDC and Mollie Fontaine, and has just been named by Memphis alternative weekly The Memphis Flyer to its annual “20<30” issue as one of the 20 Memphians under 30 who are shaping the city’s future by enriching it with their work in music, art, fashion, agriculture and business.
Indeed, she has been cited in the Memphis Commercial Appeal for being “in the core of Memphis tradition,” thanks to expressing her “different roots influences in idiosyncratic and unexpected ways” and thereby making her “one of the most interesting artists to emerge on the Memphis scene in years.”
“We’ve been handing out a lot of her CDs to friends and [arts] presenters we’ve worked with who love the idea of listening to the next generation of Simiens making music,” said Cynthia, noting that she and Terrance have video of Marcella trying to emulate her dad singing into a microphone before she could even talk, “and crying when we turned off music that she liked.”
“When she got older, she gravitated toward playing instruments and joining her dad on stage,” Cynthia continued. “She took piano lessons starting at 8, and all throughout middle and high school–with access to all her dad’s instruments [including accordion]. She started getting regular piano gigs, getting stronger and stronger all the time.”
Marcella moved to Memphis in 2009 to attend art school, and armed with an accordion, began playing solo shows consisting of songs by favorite artists including Nina Simone, The Buzzcocks and Bob Dylan.
“She had three regular solo piano gigs and was getting song requests, so she had to get better,” said Cynthia. “And since she’d learned accordion, she had some zydeco in her repertoire—for people who knew she had it and wanted a Louisiana-flavored performance.”
Marcella eventually put together a band that combined her Creole heritage with Memphis’s signature soul music. Now 24, she’s been featured on her father’s most recent album Dockside Sessions (2014), which won a Grammy and for which she co-wrote a song. She has also recorded with Memphis hip-hop artist Cities Aviv, and was featured on his album Digital Lows.
She has performed with her father’s band at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise and Festival International de Louisiane.
“I got her two piano nights on the last Blues Cruise in October and Marcia Ball came and stayed all night!” said Cynthia, who left with Terrance after APAP to head to Memphis, where Marcella was opening for her dad at DKDC.
Next up is post-APAP followup.
“A lot of people want her,” said Cynthia. “We just have to route a solid tour that makes sense for her–which is the challenge for anyone touring, particularly an emerging artist.”
The Bronze Age, by the way, is all original material except for “My Heart’s on Fire,” by 1960s Louisiana R&B group Lil’ Bob and the Lollipops of “I Got Loaded” hit fame.