Austin, Texas is a “music city”, but wouldn’t be one without its musicians. Cultural development in Texas, the Southwestern region and even the entire United States is influenced by the Austin music scene. The diatonic and piano accordions are components of the Western musical aesthetic and Debra Peters has been a part of that identity and character, working continuously with the piano accordion for nearly three decades as a professional musician.
The granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants, Debra Peters was born in Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Musically gifted, Debra studied accordion, piano and voice. Each year, the Edmonton Kiwanis would host a music festival and at age eleven, Debra won the festival’s first-place trophy. She knew at that time that she wanted to be a singer, songwriter and professional musician. While many people decide such things at an early age, few follow through with their ambition and make it their life’s work. Debra followed her heart and eventually found her way to Los Angeles, then to Texas and became one of the Austin’s music makers in 1991. Debra Peters is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter with expertise as a piano accordionist.
As a professional player of the piano accordion in the Folk and Traditional music of Texas and New Orleans, there are three ways in which Debra Peters doesn’t fit the mold. First, Debra is a woman musician in a state where men are in abundance as accordionists. Second, she is a piano accordionist who focuses on traditional genres in which the diatonic accordion is thought to be the “instrument of choice”. Third, Debra Peters is a band leader, and women have not commonly been associated with that job description, especially when she founded her band, “Debra Peters + The Love Saints”, in Los Angeles, then in Austin, nearly thirty years ago.
Debra Peters is not typical. In fact, there is no woman musician like her, in the worlds of Zydeco, Cajun, Tex-Mex, Blues and the piano accordion. With her approachable style as a performer, she reminds audiences of an America that is fading into the past. Songs about trains and cowboys, Country & Western songs, dance forms such as Texas Swing and Polka are all part of the mystique and heritage of Texas and Debra performs them, with conviction. But, the “value added” is that she ties the worlds of the Folk and Traditional music of Texas and New Orleans to the piano accordion, and has done that since her arrival in Austin.
By allowing Zydeco, Cajun, Tex-Mex and Blues into her music, something few women piano accordionists have done, Debra Peters makes inroads for acceptance of the piano accordion in Folk and Traditional music of all kinds. Debra Peters has contributed her time and effort to Texas Folklife for 17 years, and skillfully judges young musicians each year as they compete to become an accordion “King or Queen” of Texas, on either diatonic or piano accordion. Also, by teaching Folk and Traditional music workshops for the piano accordion for two decades, she empowers others to see the instrument through ‘different eyes’. With her outreach, Debra Peters contributes to, not only the survival of Folk and Traditional music of Texas and New Orleans, but advances the growth and relevancy of the piano accordion in music, today. It is this ‘link’ that is unprecedented and it is what makes Debra Peters a very special force in traditional music, today.