George Edward "Butch" Ballard was born in Camden, New Jersey and grew up in Frankford, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He liked to follow the American Legion parades through his neighborhood, and would march along with the drummers.
Maybe it was then that George Ballard decided he wanted to pound those drums himself, because somehow he conveyed the ambition to his father, who gave him a set of drums he bought from a pawnbroker when George was only 10.
That was how it started. George ballard took drumming lessons for 75 cents a session, and by the time he was 16, was allowed to sit in on the Herb Thornton Band, which he heard playing at the Philadelphia Boys Club.
George "Butch" Ballard went from there to perform with some of the biggest jazz artists of his era, and was still swinging at 90.
Over the years, George Ballard played with jazz legends John Coltrane, Fats Waller, Bootsie Barnes, Cat Anderson, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Eddie Vinson, Arnett Cobb and Clark Terry.
After performing with a band in Philly, George, at the age of 19, began playing with Louis Armstrong's band, the Dukes.
Three years later, George Ballard moved to Harlem and joined the band of Cootie Williams, Duke Ellington's former trumpeter. Singers with the band included Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Pearl Bailey.
During World War II, George joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific with the 29th Special Construction Battalion (Seabees). He also played in a military band.
After the war, George Ballard got gigs in New York with Armstrong, Illinois Jacquet and Ellington's son Mercer.
In the late 1940s, George joined Count Basie's Orchestra when Basie's drummer, Shadow Wilson, left to play with Woody Herman.
In 1950, George Ballard did the unthinkable: he turned down Duke Ellington. Ellington had contacted him to back up drummer Sonny Greer, who was not always reliable.
George Ballard became Greer's backup, but when Ellington asked him to permanently replace Greer, he refused. He said he didn't want to change his drumming style to suit Ellington, who favored double bass drums.
Although Ellington hired Louie Bellson as his permanent drummer, George Ballard continued to play occasional sets with the Duke in 1952 and 1953. He was the drummer on the classic Satin Doll.
He died October 1, 2011 at the age of 92, leaving behind a long career that tracked much of the history of jazz in America.