Former Natchezian continues impressive career in music biz

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 28, 2008

A piece of Hollywood is now at home in Natchez.

When “The Polar Express” soundtrack recently went gold, the award commemorating that fact was delivered to the home of Basil and Sallie Ballard.

The Ballards received the award from her son Glen Ballard who wrote and produced eight of the 14 songs on the soundtrack.

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From his California office, Ballard said the gold recognition is just the latest achievement in what has been a “dream” project.

“Taking this project from a book to what it is now has been almost like a dream,” Ballard said. “The book was one of my most loved stories when my sons were growing up.”

Ballard said “The Polar Express” project is ongoing for his company, Aerowave. The music for the show will be preformed at Carnegie Hall this Christmas and a full show based on the music is planned for Christmas of 2009.

Ballard said there could be even more in the works for the famed holiday story.

“The Polar Express could easily be turned in to a stage production,” Ballard said.

And while Ballard has a deep interested in “The Polar Express,” his days are filled with a variety of other projects.

He is currently working on a stage version of the 1991 Oscar winning movie “Ghost.” Ballard, along with business partner, Dave Stewart, have written the songs. Ballard and Stewart are working closely with Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote the screenplay for “Ghost,” to get the show ready for the stage.

“We are in pretty good shape with it,” Ballard said. “To get into the theatre with it is exciting.”

The five-time Grammy Award winning producer, songwriter and arranger, who attended Cathedral School and graduated from Natchez High School before attending Ole Miss, is also currently working with new recording artist Michael Tolcher on his second album.

Working closely with recording artists is somethingin which Ballard takes great pride.

“The one thing I like to provide an artist is a place to realize the best version of their music,” Ballard said. “In a studio setting, we are able to enhance the music in such a way that it will stand up over time.”

Ballard is also currently working with Allen Silvestri to write two songs for an upcoming Hannah Montana movie. One song is already complete.

The two also worked together on the soundtrack for “The Polar Express.”

Ballard’s interest in music began long before leaving Mississippi for the West Coast. He started playing piano and guitar at an early age and wrote his first song at age 10. The long history and varied likes in music have given him the ability to work on a wide-range of projects.

“I love music of all different kinds,” Ballard said. “I love the fact that I have enough range that it is never a jarring transition to go from one project to another.”

On-top of “Ghost,” Ballard is in the beginning stages of work on turning another movie into a theatre production. Ballard couldn’t release the name of the movie because it has not been officially announced but did say it was a popular film.

“I’m working on taking a couple of big iconic movies and making them work as stage productions,” he said.

Having so many projects on the table at once could be a challenge for many, but Ballard said it is just part of the job description.

“I am doing a lot of things concurrently, but I’m focused greatly on each of them,” Ballard said. “It is a fulltime commitment to the artist and to the work.”

Running full-steam ahead is the only way Ballard knows when it comes to churning out quality work.

“I leave nothing on the table because I’ve never found an easier way to get it right,” Ballard said. “Anytime I’ve ever sort of cut corners, it has always come back to haunt me.

The dedication “to stay in the game” has garnered Ballard much acclaim but it has also kept him on the west coast for many years.

But that will all end when the self proclaimed prodigal son returns to Mississippi in October when he is inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame. The induction will take place on Oct. 4 during homecoming festivities.

“I’m flattered that, as a sort of prodigal son, they even remembered that I was there,” Ballard said. “I haven’t walked on the campus since June 1 of 1975. It really is a homecoming of 33 years for me.”