Remembering Jonah Ellis
On February 22, 2010, Jonah Ellis was called home to be with our Lord and Savior. Jonah was born in Wilson County, North Carolina, August 25, 1947, and reared in Washington, D.C. He was the youngest of fourteen children (Robert, John C., Rosa-Mae, Mathew-Lee, William Bruce (Bud), Hagar, Inez, Margie, Festus, William, Hagar, Almeta (Dot), Dorthy, and John (Bob) Ellis) born to General and Almeta Ellis.
Jonah’s early years were spent with his siblings farming alongside his sharecropper father in North Carolina. There, he learned both the value of hard work and developed a great love for music. By the time he was five years old, he had learned to play the guitar by enlisting family friends who were musicians to teach him chords. When Jonah was seven years old, he and his family moved to Washington, D.C., where his passion for music grew as he grew.
Jonah accepted Christ at an early age and was baptized at Antioch Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He remained a devoted Christian throughout his life, and his strong belief in God guided his personal and professional life. He was a member of Mother Liberty CME Church in Jackson, Tennessee and Lake Grove Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee, where he served in the music ministry.
Education was a priority for Jonah as he possessed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Jonah was a graduate of Spingarn Senior High School in Washington, D.C. and Morris Town Junior College in Morris Town, Tennessee. He received a B.A. degree in Music from Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a Master of Arts in Music from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.
Jonah was full of knowledge and always had a willing heart to share it. His career in education punctuated his professional life. Following his own education, he began educating others, serving as professor of music at The University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Eastern Shore, Maryland. He later devoted the last fourteen years of his life to Gordon Elementary School’s Kids ‘N Blues program in Memphis, Tennessee.
Jonah was highly creative and driven. His industrious, resourceful nature and his perseverance and dedication to hard work, when applied to his career in the music industry, led to his first recording, released in 1968 in Nashville, Tennessee by his group Jonah and The Whales. The song, “Savannah Sun,” topped the charts. Because of Jonah musical talent and skills he became an associate of various recording companies including Motown and Capital Records.
Jonah was most famous for his 1981 platinum hit single, “Don’t Stop the Music,” popularized by Yarborough and Peoples. He was a singer and band director for the Drifters, lead guitarist for the legendary group The Temptations, and song writer for Burt Bacharach, Aretha Franklin, Penny Ford, Ester Phillip, Carolyn Franklin, The Funkadelics, Billy Paul, Rolls Royce, Jimmy Hamilton, Robert Goodie, The Gap Band, and many more. He appeared on “Soul Train” and “Dick Clark” dance shows.
In addition to the platinum and gold revival of Ellis’s early cut “Don’t Stop the Music” by current pop artists Eve and Alicia Keyes in “Gangsta Lovin’,” and Puff Daddy in “Soul Food,” Jonah continued to write and perform internationally until his untimely death. His enduring impact on the music industry was recognized in 2003 and 2004 with BMI music awards for “Gangsta Lovin’.”
Family was of utmost importance to Jonah as he was a devoted son and brother. In 1980, he carried that devotion into his own family that he created when he took as his bride his college sweetheart and best friend Maria Slack. To their union, Almeta-Maria, Ashley Renee` and Amber Nicole, who Jonah loved beyond measure, were born. The children dearly loved their father and shared many adventures with him. Jonah had a sense of humor that will be fondly remembered, especially by his children.
Jonah was a master of memories as he had a knack for recapturing them in vivid color and with impeccable detail and making new ones with vibrance. Jonah loved people and was always willing to help. He was very charitable through generously giving and helping others, especially those in need. He was always optimistic and spoke the best of others. He was a friend and an encourager. Thus, his memory will be fondly cherished by many.
Jonah was preceded in death by his father and mother General and Almeta Ellis, and his sisters and brothers Robert Ellis, John C. Ellis, William Bruce (BUD) Ellis (Sarah Ellis), Matthew-Lee Ellis, and Inez Ellis-Barham.
Jonah leaves to cherish his legacy: his three beautiful daughters Almeta-Maria Ellis of Little Rock, Arkansas; Ashley Renee` Ellis of Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and Amber Nicole Ellis of Jackson, Tennessee; as well as, eight sisters and brothers: Rosa-May Adams of Freemont of North Carolina; Margie Ellis of Washington, D.C.; General (Fetus) Ellis Jr. (Teresa- Evelyn Ellis)of Fort Washington, Maryland; William Bynum (Leslie Bynum) of Washington, D.C.; Hagar McLeod (James McLeod)of Suitland, Maryland; Almeta (Dot) Ellis-Callier of Fort Washington, Maryland; Dorthy Ellis of Upper Marlboro, Maryland; John (Bob) Ellis of Washington, D.C.; and a hosts of close cousins, nieces, nephews, great nieces, great nephews; and his best friend Maria Ellis.