When it comes to music, Ellis Hall does it all. He is a seasoned and accomplished vocalist in possession of a powerful 5-octave range. He is a songwriter, arranger, producer and educator. Across a career of 40-plus years and counting, Ellis Hall has proven himself as an all-around performer that has entertained audiences on five continents, sharing stages with giants ranging from James Taylor, Natalie Cole, Patti LaBelle and Toby Keith to Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Bobby Womack, George Duke and Sheila E. His reputation of excellence earned Ellis the moniker, “The Ambassador of Soul.”
Young Ellis was diagnosed with Congenital Glaucoma at an early age and lived knowing one day he would be blind. Ever mindful of that fate, Ellis practiced all of his instruments in the dark so he would always be able to play them. Though the side effects of glaucoma are physically painful, psychologically, Ellis prepared himself for blindness beautifully, seeing himself as ‘differently-abled,’ not disabled.
Ellis’ first professional recording was for rocker Paul Pena on Capitol Records in 1971 playing bass and singing background on his single “The River.” Then in 1973, he formed The Ellis Hall Group. Their first gig was opening for an early incarnation of Earth Wind & Fire whose leader, Maurice White, was so impressed he said their performance inspired him to make his group step up its presentation. On another stop opening for the Temptations, Ellis’ group performed Side 1 of Stevie Wonder’s new Innervisions LP and received a standing ovation. On another show opening for the Spinners, when that group’s bass player went M.I.A., Ellis saved the day by playing all of their hits from memory, shocking everyone.
When The Ellis Hall Group opened for Tower of Power he astounded every member. Leader Emilio Castillo begged Ellis on four separate occasions to join T.O.P., each time for a different axe. After relocating to California in the early `80s, Ellis finally joined, documented on the LP Power which included the funky single/video “Credit” and the bittersweet ballad “Some Days Were Meant For Rain.”
As a session musician in LA, Ellis was the featured artist on records with artists such as John Klemmer, Carl Anderson, Larry Dunn and Kenny G, the latter with whom he scored a Top 15 R&B hit singing a Preston Glass-produced remake of Jr. Walker & The All-Stars’ “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” from the multi-platinum Duotones LP (Arista – 1986). Ellis also got busy in Hollywood, singing songs for live action and animated films such as “The Lion King 2,” “Shrek 2,” “Chicken Run,” “Invincible” and “Bruce Almighty,” and acting in the comedy “Big Momma’s House” (Martin Lawrence) and the crime drama “Catch Me If You Can” (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Ellis finally met his greatest inspiration, Ray Charles, in 2001 at a Christmas party. “Ironically, I was playing ‘I Can See Clearly Now,’” Ellis quips! Ray sent for Ellis to come to his table where he animatedly stammered, “Who are you and why have I not heard of you until now?!” “Papa Ray” signed Ellis to his Cross Over Records label in 2002, mentoring him at his famous RPM Studios. Sadly, when Ellis’ record was set for release in 2004, Ray died…but not before hipping him that he needed to get on the Symphony Show circuit. Ellis did his first one in 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl and has since been playing with prestigious 81-piece orchestras internationally, including the Pittsburgh Symphony with Marvin Hamlisch conducting. Ellis’ first concept show was “Ray, Motown and Beyond.” In Sept. 2016, he debuts “Soul Unlimited” (conducted by Jeff Tyzik) where he “Ellis-izes” songs from David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” to “Something” by George Harrison (which Ellis recorded on his CD Straight Ahead featuring Billy Preston on organ).