Country music icon George Strait and longtime Austin roots-blues pianist Marcia Ball have been selected as the Texas State Musicians for 2017 and 2018, respectively, the Texas Commission on the Arts announced this week.
Strait and Ball will be honored at the Capitol with formal House and Senate resolutions on Thursday, which happens to be Strait’s 65th birthday. Also to be honored are Jenny Browne and Carol Coffee Reposa, Texas Poet Laureates for 2017 and 2018, along with four Texas State Visual Artists: Kermit Oliver of Waco and Sedrick Huckaby of Benbrook (two-dimensional) and Austin’s Beverly Penn and Beili Liu (three-dimensional).
“These artists have forged the unique and diverse cultural identity that defines the Texas soul,” state Sen. Jose Menendez said. “Their works enrich the lives of millions of Texans, and their creative spirit and indomitable ambition inspire many more.”
The choice of Strait was surprising only in that 14 other musicians previously have received the honor since the selections began in 2003. One of the top-selling country music artists of all time, Strait got his start in San Marcos in the 1970s before becoming a breakout star in the ’80s. He recently retired from touring but is still releasing records and makes occasional special live appearances.
Ball, 68, was born in Orange, Texas, but raised in Louisiana, absorbing much of that state’s blues and jazz musical influences as a young piano player. She moved to Austin in the 1970s and fronted Freda & the Firedogs, an eclectic country-roots band at the forefront of Austin’s cosmic-cowboy heyday. She’s lived here ever since, recording more than a dozen solo records along with several collaborative albums.
Candidates are nominated by the general public, after which the Commission on the Arts chooses the artists through a series of committee processes. Selections are made every two years, during the legislative session.
Strait and Ball follow blues guitar great Jimmie Vaughan and country-folk-rock troubadour Joe Ely, who served in 2015 and 2016. The title is primarily an honorary distinction, with no specific duties attached.