You may not have heard of him yet but there is no doubt many have heard the voice of the man and his music. He is Ellis Hall, singer, composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, Ray Charles protégé’ and voice behind the singing Raisins “I heard it through the grapevine.”
Hall was crowned Ambassador of Soul by arranger, composer and former conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Jeff Tyzik. This multi-talented musician was a former lead singer with Tower of Power, has performed all over the world, worked with heavy hitters of the music industry in all genres; from rock, pop, blues, jazz to classical and is the soothing voice behind local jazz station 94.7, The Wave theme song. He has also done some acting, performed for Nelson Mandela in Johannesberg, South Afric and was invited twice to entertain at Oprah Winfrey’s home. Hall is an all-around professional showman who has music running through his veins. It is his lifeblood.
“I love all music. I grew up listening to Aerosmith, the Carpenters, Sam Cook and Trakovsky. As spiritually growing people you have to leave your heart open to music, all music. Everybody wants to put you in a box. I learned early on that pigeon holes are for turkeys,” said the artist whose high energy positivity could be felt through cyber space during a recent cell phone interview.
Born and raised in Claxton, Georgia, Hall was determined not to allow anyone or anything to limit him. He willed himself to master numerous instruments keyboards, horns and strings knowing it would someday serve him well. That day came in 1970 while in still in high school. Hall who was already experiencing limited eyesight in his right eye due to congenital glaucoma was involved in what he describes as a freak accident while wrestling in high school.
His opponent on the mat accidently poked him in his left eye, his one good eye. At 18 years of age this dedicated athlete and musical whiz kid was completely blind except for the recognition of some color.
“I knew no one would read my Braile charts so that’s why I learned all these instruments to make sure everything was sounding right. I hear it all in my head first and that is how I put a song together,” Hall said. “There is no imitation. I’ll take a familiar song and ‘Ellis-ise it; music is a celebration of the soul within and it doesn’t matter what type of music I’m performing I add the soul to it.”
Hall met his idol Ray Charles at a Christmas party in 2001. He became Ray’s protége and soon after was a signed artist on Ray’s record label. However, that relationship was cut short when Charles died in 2004. Another highlight of Hall’s life was meeting Helen Keller and attending Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass, where Keller herself was once a student. He also performed at Keller’s funeral.
The upbeat, don’t worry be happy, positive attitude Hall has cultivated is refreshing. When asked how he’s maintained such a dynamic personality under the circumstances, Hall has a ready answer.
““I love a good party and the only party I don’t attend is a pity party… You have a choice to wake up and smile or wake up as a Tinasaurus. I choose to wake up and smile, be happy,” Hall says with a chuckle. “You have to know and understand that it is up to you to make the decision to be happy and positive with whatever your situation or whatever you have. If you feel that is not enough then there will never be enough.”
No doubt his southern Baptist upbringing definitely finds its way into his music and outlook on life and is the inspiration for “Chakalaka”, a catch phrase he coined to mean ‘joyous’. He believes in being joyous and thankful in all things.
Hall is a happy go lucky kind of guy who married his manager, Leighala Hall, three years ago. He calls their blended family of children from previous marriages “The Brady Brunch”. His wife and children are the joy of his life. I, for some reason the jovial Ambassador of Soul ever starts to feel a little down, his antidote is never far away.
“The cheapest therapy I’ve found is playing my guitar. Playing guitar is very therapeutic for me. I am always happy making music. I don’t belong to any church or religion. I simply celebrate all that comes from love. God is love and I put “her” in my music.