George Edward “Butch” Ballard (b. December 26, 1918) is an American jazz drummer who during his long career has played with musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Ballard was born in Camden, New Jersey and grew up in Frankford, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a child he followed American Legion parades near his home, focusing particularly on the drummer. When he was about 10 years old, Ballard's father bought him a set of drums from a pawnbroker and he began to take lessons for 75 cents each. He got the nickname “Butch” after Machine Gun Butch, a character in the 1930 film The Big House. He attended Northeast High School in Philadelphia. When he was 21, he married Jessie, for whom he bought a house in Philadelphia in 1950.
At around 16 years old, Ballard listened to Herb Thornton's band at the Boys Club in Philadelphia. They let him play with them, and he was invited to join a band by a man who heard him. For the following few months, he carried his drums across Philadelphia to rehearse. In 1938, Ballard started playing with Louis Armstrong's band The Dukes. He performed with them for a few years. In 1941 he began playing with the Cootie Williams Orchestra, performing with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Pearl Bailey.
During the Second World War, Ballard joined the United States Navy and served in the 29th Special Construction Battalion in Guam and the South Pacific. While serving, he played in the military band. After the war, he returned to Philadelphia and then went to New York, working with musicians including Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Eddie Vinson, Arnett Cobb and Clark Terry.