When Cathy Ponton King performs in Glen Echo Park, nostalgia colors her music.
“My maternal grandparents, both from Ireland, met at a dance [there] in the 1920s,” she said. Her grandfather was playing the Irish fiddle at the dance where he first encountered his future wife.
“Are there music notes that persist in the decades in these walls? I wonder sometimes. I try to close my eyes and imagine the young Irish immigrants,” said the singer-songwriter who will play with her band at a swing and blues dance in the park’s Spanish Ballroom on Saturday, Nov. 23. The 1933 Mediterranean-style Art Deco building – which is on the National Register of Historic Places — was erected on the site of an earlier dance pavilion, the Crystal Ballroom, where King’s forebears met almost a century ago.
Her grandmother, who “became the Grande Dame of Irish Music” held “huge house parties,” often fundraisers for Irish causes, in her Hyattsville home where she would “silence a room with her beautiful singing,” King recalled. “She taught me all about the feeling in singing.” King was 4 or 5 when she began singing at those parties. “I loved the attention and the applause!”
The talent for singing presumably skipped a generation. “My mother loved music, but could not sing. My father Tommy Ponton was a great singer in my church, St. Jerome’s in Hyattsville.”
Although King “picked up the guitar at age 10,” she admitted to being more interested in what was on the radio,” like Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. “I merged my music to this instead of Irish,” she said.
While a student at the University of Maryland, King said, “I met the blues. … I threw myself into it and learned all the blues genres possible.” At the Georgetown’s iconic Cellar Door, she also “met and hung out with Muddy Waters, one of the greatest blues singers in the history of music.” She credits Waters, whose “style of playing guitar and passionate vocals” she loved as being “instrumental in me forming my first blues band in the early ’80s.”
She did use her journalism degree for a while, King said, but “I put it on the back burner as the call to sing, write and perform music was overwhelming.” So, she left ABC News and went on the road with The Rhythmmasters for four or five years, then “decided to find out if I could make a living as a singer-songwriter.”
Her performances as the opening band for blues greats including Koko Taylor, Albert Collins, Earl King, Bo Diddley and Paul Butterfield, she said, gave her “indelible memories and love for the musicians of the passing generation and their music.”
And “here I am,” she said, “still singing the blues!” She has four CDs of original songs – swing, blues and ballads — all produced by her husband Jeff King, who owns a recording studio and wrote several of her songs. When she does live shows with her band, they “do a lot of covers and it rocks!”
For the future, King who described herself hopes “to keep putting out more CDs,” she said. “I have six new unreleased songs ready.”
A Swing & Blues Dance with Cathy Ponton King, featuring Curtis Pope on trumpet, will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight in the historic Spanish Ballroom. In Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd. Glen Echo. A complimentary one-hour blues dance lesson starts at 8 p.m., followed by dancing. Admission is $15 in advance through Nov. 22; visit www.eventbrite.com/e/blues-dance-with-cathy-ponton-king-band-tickets-77033028863) or $20 at the door.