Music industry icon, Natchez native Ballard to be honored with UM Medal for the Arts

Published 3:24 pm Monday, March 13, 2023

OXFORD — Music industry icon Glen Ballard, a Natchez native, will be honored with the highest award the University of Mississippi gives to recognize excellence in the arts.

Basil Glen Ballard Jr., the son of the late Basil and Sallie Ballard, is best known for co-writing and producing Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (1995), which won five Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album and Album of the Year, and was ranked by Rolling Stone as one of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

He is also known for writing and recording Michael Jackson’s albums Thriller, Bad and Dangerous and for his collaborations with composer Alan Silvestri. He co-wrote songs, including “Man in the Mirror” (1987) and “Hand in My Pocket” (1995).

Email newsletter signup

At an April 20 ceremony and concert in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, the UM Institute for the Arts will present the Medal for the Arts to the songwriter, lyricist and record producer. The university’s Living Music Resource is producing the concert program.

Following a 50-year career, Ballard will be a 2023 inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York on June 15, alongside Snoop Dogg, Gloria Estefan, Jeff Lynne and Sade.

“The spirit of soulful artists is embedded in this award,” Ballard said of his selection for the Medal for the Arts. “I prefer to think of it as a celebration of the arts from this magical place and not just a recognition of my journey.

“William Faulkner and so many others are linked to this place. I am grateful to be part of this tradition.”

Designed along the lines of the Kennedy Center Honors, which selects honorees for lifetime artistic achievements, the 7:30 p.m. program will feature a performance by Ballard, a short documentary on his life and a message from a surprise musical guest.

“We are so excited to bestow upon Glen Ballard this prestigious award,” said Nancy Maria Balach, chair of the Department of Music and director of the Institute for the Arts. “His exceptional work is so well known, such as the songs ‘Man in the Mirror,’ written for Michael Jackson, and ‘Believe,’ written for ‘The Polar Express’ film.

“This will be an evening of entertainment at its finest. Glen is really a brilliant renaissance man, the epitome of a collaborative artist who connects the dots. His career speaks for itself; he has reached a high level of success that most people only dream about.”

Ballard has won six Grammy awards and an Olivier Award and was nominated for an Academy Award. He has worked with Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones, George Strait, Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, Aerosmith, Dave Matthews, Van Halen, Chaka Khan, Andrea Bocelli, Katy Perry, Ringo Starr, Shakira, Christina Aguilera and Idina Menzel, and helped launch the debuts of Curtis Stigers, Jack Wagner, Paula Abdul, Wilson Phillips and Morrissette.

Ballard’s Hollywood-based international production company, Augury, focuses on developing projects for musical theater, episodic TV and streaming, feature films and live music events. He co-wrote the song score and executive produced the Netflix series “The Eddy” and wrote songs for such films as “The Slugger’s Wife,” “Navy Seals,” “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” “The Polar Express,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Pinocchio.”

He has composed work for theater productions “Ghost the Musical” and “Back to the Future Musical,” which will open on Broadway this summer.

As an Ole Miss student, Ballard majored in English, journalism and political science and graduated in 1975 with honors. He was editor of the Ole Miss annual and produced the only green-colored yearbook cover in school history.

Days after graduation, he headed to Hollywood to get his start. He called a family friend who worked at a golf course there, and that individual knew a golfer who happened to run Sunset Sound Recordings. Before Ballard knew it, he had a job.

Ballard, who plays piano and guitar, has sold more than 150 million records worldwide. He was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame in 2008.

“Glen is an example of the caliber of graduates Ole Miss produces, and that’s why we developed the Medal for the Arts award,” said Brady Bramlett, associate director of university development and executive managing director of the Living Music Resource.

“We want to honor contributors and patrons across all genres of the arts who enrich our lives and make the University of Mississippi proud. Glen has the kind of career that many strive to obtain.”

The inaugural 2022 Medal for the Arts award was given posthumously to Jim Weatherly, renowned songwriter and Ole Miss alumnus.

Tickets to the ceremony and concert are $20 for the general public and $5 for Ole Miss students, faculty and staff. They can be purchased at the UM Box Office in the Ford Center, open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; by calling 662-915-7411; or online at