Bluegrass and old-timey string band traditions are fused into the deeply personal solo banjo and fiddle style of Tony Ellis. A five-time recipient of composition awards from the ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Publishers), Ellis was featured during a national Masters of the Banjo tour, sponsored by the National Folk Council for the Traditional Arts, in 1997.
Ellis was taught the two-finger style of playing banjo by his grandmother, an old-time fiddler. Upon hearing a radio broadcast by Flatt & Scruggs in the mid-'50s, Ellis sold his high-school trumpet and bought a resonator banjo. After studying with Swanson Walker and Don Reno, Ellis joined Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys in 1960, recording 22 tracks during the two and a half years that he played with the influential group. In 1962, Ellis performed with Mac Wiseman at Carnegie Hall in New York. Although he left full-time performing shortly afterwards, he continued to develop his unique sound. Temporarily living in the Bristol, TN, area, he performed old-timey music with Bruce Mongle, George Pegram, and Tommy Jarrell. After relocating to south central Ohio, he played with several bluegrass and old-timey bands.
Ellis' two albums, produced by Stephen Wade, were critical successes. Dixie Banner, released in 1987, was named one of the five best albums of the year by National Public Radio. Farewell My Home, released in 1993, was included on the annual Top Ten list compiled by The Washington Post. Ellis was accompanied on both albums by his son, Bill Ellis, a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music with a degree in classical guitar. In 1993, Ellis played banjo and fiddle in the People's Light and Theater Company's production John Brown's Body in Malvern, PA. The album Quaker Girl followed in 1999, and in mid-2000 Ellis returned with Sounds Like Bluegrass to Me.