Marsha Todd lives and breathes the old-time and bluegrass music of the Southwest Virginia-Northwest North Carolina region. “The music is what it’s all about for me,” she proclaims. All her life, Marsha has traveled with her family to dances, festivals, fiddlers’ conventions, and music gatherings around the region, and she has been performing since she was nine years old. Today, she performs with her parents’ band, the Slate Mountain Ramblers.
When she was four years old, Marsha’s father, fiddler Richard Bowman, gave her a cello. “I learned to play it like a bass,” she recalls. “Every weekend we would go to community events and festivals, traveling and playing. I was always around the music.” At nine years old, Marsha started playing mandolin with the Slate Mountain Ramblers. The band’s banjo player at the time played a two-finger style that was not allowed in old-time competitions at fiddlers’ conventions, “So I learned to play the banjo to compete […] on stage,” she says. “The banjo is my main instrument now.”
By the time she was fourteen years old, Marsha was the band’s full-time banjo player, and she has also learned to play most of the other instruments. “I like playing all of them,” Marsha says. “It just depends on who’s around and what is needed.” Marsha plays guitar, mandolin, bass, and a little fiddle. Marsha also likes to sing. “At square dances, you’ve got to have something to break up all the fiddle tunes,” she says.
Marsha is an accomplished flatfoot dancer. She won her first ribbon at the age of two and has won first place at every local festival at some point in time including the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention in 2010.
Marsha also enjoys playing bluegrass banjo. She spent four years traveling and performing as a professional bluegrass musician, first on bass, then playing bluegrass banjo. “I play a solid Scruggs-type roll,” she says, “But I have developed my own style in both old-time and bluegrass.” She explains, “Dad did not want anybody showing me how to play, particularly the right hand. I’m very thankful for that because it allowed me to develop my own style.” Marsha says that she was exposed to a lot of different people and was able to take those influences to create her own style. “I don’t want to sound like anybody else,” she says. “When people hear me play, I want them to say, ‘That’s Marsha playing.'”
Marsha is available for musical and dance performances and to play for dances with the Slate Mountain Ramblers and with informal bluegrass groups. She is also available for workshops, private lessons, demonstrations, consultations, and educational programs.