Marion Hayden is one of very few female jazz bassists, in her case deciding to stay close to home while becoming one of the more enduring instrumentalists in the Midwestern United States. Born in Detroit, MI, in 1952, she is the daughter of Marion and Herbert Hayden, her father an avid record collector and jazz pianist himself. Growing up on the industrial west side of the Motor City, she took up piano at the age of nine, followed by the upright acoustic bass at 12. In the summer Metro Arts program she met Wendell Harrison and Marcus Belgrave, who would become teachers, and in time lifelong collaborators. Hayden attended Cass Tech High School and graduated from Henry Ford High School, took classes at Michigan State University and then the University of Michigan, gaining a liberal arts degree with a minor in entomology. She took a position with the Michigan Department of Agriculture while working the nightclub circuit playing jazz with Belgrave, pianist Charles Boles, Teddy Harris, Jr., the Jimmy Wilkins Orchestra, Buddy Budson, LaMonte Hamilton, saxophonist George Benson, Marvin "Doc" Holladay, Randy Gelispie, Donald Walden, Kenn Cox, and Stan Booker.
Briefly disillusioned with the jazz scene in the early '80s, she took a two-year hiatus before her career was revived through playing again with Cox, and most notably master percussionist Roy Brooks in his combo the Artistic Truth. For a time while married to guitarist Bill Banfield, she worked on joint projects with him including symphonic and cinematic music reflecting her classical training. From there her career took off as one of the founding members of the all-female ensemble Venus, followed by the band Straight Ahead in collaboration with Regina Carter. As the band was signed to Atlantic Records, the personnel of Straight Ahead changed; as Carter began a solo career, vocalist Michelle Braden was replaced by Cynthia Dewberry and Hayden, pianist Eileen Orr, and drummer Gayelynn McKinney carried on. As the commercial landscape for jazz changed, so too did Hayden's focus, playing in both R&B and mainstream contexts.
This versatility led her to a wide variety of engagements, but also gave her the opportunity to become a high-level educator. She became a professor of bass instruction in the jazz department of Tri-C College in Cleveland, OH, and was installed in the faculty at the University of Michigan School of Music. She has performed or recorded with such jazz veterans as Kirk Lightsey, Ralph Peterson, Jr., Terry Callier, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Fortune, Kenny Burrell, Steve Turre, Cecil Bridgewater, fellow Detroiter James Carter, and countless other professionals passing through. Straight Ahead have maintained a local presence beyond their recordings, while Hayden is also heard with the band of saxophonist Allen Barnes, and is a member of the Modern Jazz Messengers led by drummer Sean Dobbins. Her solo CD Visions was released in 2008, and she has composed a suite based on the writings of poet Phyllis Wheatley.