For Eleanor Ellis, her musical career was what happened while she was doing what she liked to
do. Fortuitously, what she likes to do – creating, recreating, preserving and performing basic
American blues – is also what she believes in. And what she does well.
Ellis grew up in Louisiana near New Orleans, a region where the music, like the food, is spicy and
multicultural. As a youngster Ellis soon got her ears around the blues blasting out from local radio stations.
The bent notes, the growling, wailing inflections and the mixture of irony and humor that ran
through the lyrics entranced Ellis, moving her to ask her parents for a guitar. But it wasn’t until she
was older, living in New Orleans and working at Tulane University cataloging vintage recordings at
the Jazz Archive, that she began to take seriously the instrument she would later call her “second

During this time Ellis was exploring several forms of the roots music which had always attracted her. A
bluegrass jam session led to musical collaboration with “Delta Rambler” Hazel Schlueter and Ellis later
wound up playing stand-up bass in two bluegrass bands, the Green Valley Cutups and Bill Malone’s
Hill Country Ramblers. At solo gigs in the French Quarter and small uptown coffeehouses she played
a mix of blues, old-time and country, with a few obscure contemporary songs thrown in. This led to
her first taste of street musicianship in the Big Easy, and the music people she bumped into at Mardi
Gras became lifelong friends and encouraged her to further develop her talents. Ellis might have stayed
close to home, but fate decreed that she visit the Washington DC area in 1976 when the Hill Country
Ramblers got a couple of gigs there. She decided to stay, drawn to the depth and breadth of musical
expression pouring out of the mid-Atlantic scene.        next page