Memphis has walked hand in hand with soul music for so long that it’s hard to imagine one without the other. The “Memphis Sound” that originated in the studios of Stax and Hi Records in the 1960s and 1970s unleashed the likes of Otis Redding and the Staples Singers on the public ear, ensuring Memphis would forever be synonymous with the rich, soulful music that originated here.
Today’s artists have a different challenge—living up to Memphis’ storied past while blazing a trail all their own. This can be a difficult tightrope to walk, but Memphis-based Marcella & Her Lovers appear to be navigating it with ease.
A must-hear band in Memphis
Marcella & Her Lovers wasted no time making an impression in the crowded Memphis music scene. The band’s frontwoman, singer and primary songwriter Marcella René Simien, got her start playing house shows and dive bars back in 2009. Performing original songs as well as a diverse assortment of covers ranging from Nina Simone to the Velvet Underground, she quickly won over new fans with her powerhouse vocals and magnetic stage presence.
With the addition of Rory Mills Sullivan on drums, David Cousar on guitar and Dirk Kitterlin on bass, Marcella & Her Lovers was born in 2013. The band somehow manages to fuse seemingly every genre Memphis is known for—blues, soul, folk, funk, rock ‘n’ roll—to create a sound that the Memphis Music Hall of Fame describes as “subtle yet devastating.”
For a perfect example of what makes this band special, check out Marcella & Her Lovers’ Audubon Session, filmed by the Mike Curb Institute for Music inside Elvis Presley’s onetime Memphis home on Audubon Drive. Marcella delivers the traditional blues of “Baldheaded Woman” with the a cappella intensity of a field holler before sliding easily into the accordion-fueled slow burn of the original song “The Flame” and the loose-jointed R&B of Billy Bland’s “My Heart’s On Fire.” It’s really something to behold.
A new generation of Memphis soul
If Marcella René Simien sounds like she was born to play and sing, it’s because, in a way, she was. The daughter of two-time Grammy-winning Zydeco great Terrance Simien, Marcella grew up immersed in music and performance. From her upbringing in a musical household in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, to her time at the Memphis College of Art, it’s not hard to see the threads that come together in her music today.
It’s all there—the grit and grace of Memphis soul, the propulsive rhythms of New Orleans funk, the soft-spoken accordion melodies of Marcella’s Creole ancestors and a keen pop sensibility.
Marcella & Her Lovers released the debut EP “The Bronze Age” in 2014, and was named the best live band in Memphis by the “Memphis Flyer” right around the same time. The EP is an engaging slice of powerful modern soul music that finds Marcella’s unmistakable voice—fierce one moment and heart-rending the next—cutting like a knife through a gale of drums, guitars and horns. But by all indications, the best is yet to come, as the band has been hard at work on a full-length follow-up and has a full slate of live shows on the horizon.
Marcella & Her Lovers will be on tour across the country throughout the coming year. Check the band’s tour page for details, and keep an eye out at local Memphis mainstays like the Zebra Lounge and Lafayette’s Music Room.