by Joy Doss | photo by Lisa Mac
“Dude,” the audience member coughed out. He was talking about Marcella Simien’s voice (and possibly implying that she was transgendered) as she covered Tracy Chapman’s “Gimme One Reason.” Simien is proud of her femininity and was not aware that she sounded masculine to some. So she called him and his table mates out on their boorish behavior. Confused, they ignored her admonitions and requested she play some Credence Clearwater Revival. ‘I’ll try not to sing it like a dude,” she blurted before she delivered the song. She felt like she was being pushed down to being in middle school. As an ally, she was humbled by the experience and no longer plays to people’s ignorance.
—paraphrased from a 2017 Facebook post, by Marcella Simien
Marcella has been a long- time advocate, unafraid to speak up and speak out on behalf of others. She grew up in the conservative town of Lafayette, La. However, her family was anything but, with her father being two-time Grammy winner Terrance Simien. Her parents always had a hodge-podge of friends, much like she does herself.
“My parents were well- traveled and not very conservative. [Gay people or gay couples] weren’t a strange thing to me. It only became ‘strange’ when I realized that people weren’t raised the way I was. These people who can’t see outside of themselves. They don’t try to understand people with different beliefs or different ways of life.”
New Orleans is closer to her hometown and certainly has the reputation for being open to anything – and everything. So, I asked why Memphis over New Orleans? She came here in 2009 to study at Memphis College of Art and stayed on, initially working at Bar DKDC and Beauty Shop before dedicating herself to her band, Marcella and her Lovers, in 2015. Of Memphis she says, “I feel there are a lot of parallels between Memphis and New Orleans. For instance, the Mississippi River runs through both, attaching cultures and different people. I felt really comfortable. I saw a different response to the type of music I was doing (here). I don’t play traditional Creole or Zydeco music. It seemed to fit. The rich history and influences in New Orleans are definitely reminiscent of Memphis.” Les bon temps rouler up and down the Mississippi, whether in Tennessee or Louisiana, Cher!
The music lovers in our city – and we do deeply feel music – readily accepted her brand of self-described “Memphis. Swamp Soul.” If you have seen them perform, you know this description is accurate.
She continues, “It’s undeniable that this city is a soul city, a city of raw emotion. I responded to that. I feel that people accepted my weirdness in a way they didn’t in Louisiana. I would use the accordion to cover punk songs and Nina Simone songs. People (in Memphis) liked it. That made me want to continue to create here.”
Back to her Facebook post. I needed to know how on earth she contained herself in the face of such foolishness. Her response is what I hope to be enlightening and encouraging for readers, as it was for me. “I’ve encountered a lot of unusual and off-putting things. People have said awful things, especially late at night as people get drunker. You have to stay professional. I take a moment to breathe before I respond to things…so I don’t show too much of my emotion. I know how fast something like that can escalate. Being at work…there was a sense of decorum I had to maintain. I didn’t excuse any of it. I [just] had to be calm in my anger.”
She’s for sure better than me. And many of you who are reading this right? You don’t have to say “Amen,” just look “amen,” as my pastor says.
Marcella and Her Lovers have a new project coming out this year, Got You Found. It’s their first full-length album, which will be released independently. Both new album title and their first EP, The Bronze Age, will be available on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon music.