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Marlene Cummins : Associate Artist

Photo of Marlene Cummins

Marlene Cummins is Australia's foremost Indigenous blues performer. She is a singer, songwriter, musician, painter, broadcaster, actor, dancer and activist who was born in the South West Queensland town of Cunnamulla, and expresses herself through her music and art.

Marlene is a proud Guguyelandji, and Woppaburra woman, who was raised amidst the Aboriginal Protection Act of the 1950s, a childhood that was instilled with a very political 'grassroots' upbringing.

At age 17, Marlene joined the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra and, not long after, met the leader of the Black Panther Party and became a founding member the Australian Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers in Australia was short-lived, but the presence ignited the political consciousness of many activists. The party also inspired welfare programs, such as Aboriginal medical and legal services, which were largely run by women. Campaigning for land rights, medical, educational and legal services and general activism for equality and an Indigenous voice are the threads interwoven into Marlene's life and art.

Marlene knows the blues in this country from an Aboriginal woman's perspective, and her story is one of vulnerability, strength and survival. She refined her skills as a blues saxophonist and songwriter at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA, in the mid-90s. She continues to busk a few times a week as she finds this helps her to maintain and develop her feel as a musician.

Marlene is also an accomplished painter, whose works have been nominated for many awards including being shortlisted for the NSW parliament art prize.

In addition to her music, art and activism, Marlene has been regular broadcaster on Koori Radio for years, with her renowned blues show, Marloo's Blues, picking up the award for Broadcaster of the Year at the Deadly Awards in 2009.

Marlene's first release was an EP titled Whichway Up, released in 2008. Her first full-length album, Koori Woman Blues, is a mixture of original and traditional blues songs.

In 2019, Marlene joined Ngarra-Burria, an artist development program intended to build bridges for First Peoples musicians to step forward, further develop their composing skills, and connect with the art music sector. The program was initiated by Dharug composer Chris Sainsbury, and the words 'art music' here refer to the vast spectrum of contemporary classical/new music, contemporary original jazz and improvisatory practice, experimental practice, including sound art and installation, computer music, and more. Ngarra-Burria is proudly supported by the Australian Music Centre.

Biography provided by the composer

Collaborated with



Mentored by

Christopher Sainsbury