Meet the Band: Sydney Ellis (vocals), Larry Brown (keyboards), Lee Harris (bass), Vernon Jones (drums)
A Late Bloomer: Ellis moved to Cleveland when she was 8 years old and raised her kids here but didn't start performing while she lived her with her first husband. "I didn't do much in music here," she admits. "My husband at the time didn't want that." But when her second husband heard her singing "Summertime" one day, he encouraged her to give singing a try. "He told me I had a nice voice. I told him that my first husband didn't want me singing. He simply said, 'That person isn't around anymore. Do what you want to do. Live your dream.' He's been supportive ever since." Her first performance came at age 44. She was living in Los Angeles at the time. "I went to a session and I learned one song called 'Mean and Evil' by Ernestine Allen," she says. "I was so nervous. I had stage fright. I got up on stage and the musician said, 'What key?' I didn't even know what to tell him. That was my first experience." Ellis released her first album in 1993. She had a pianist who did the music and she wrote the lyrics. "I'm still writing lots of songs," she says, adding that her repertoire includes some 200 songs, both originals and covers. "I want to learn more songs and put some more in the repertoire," she says. "But you can't go too far over 200. You drop ten and then add ten."
Taking Chances: Though her cover of "Summertime" got a bit of airplay on L.A. radio, Ellis had trouble getting any traction in the States. When someone saw her at a club and encouraged her to try playing in Europe, she packed her bags and pulled up stakes. "We wanted to take a chance," she says. " We sold everything and did one last gig and flew out of Cleveland to JFK and then to England. We took the boat to Belgium and took the night train Germany. We started looking for sessions. I built up my fan base and now I have four albums. You just have to go for it. I have no regrets. I like living in Europe. I sing all over Europe. They treat you well too. They pay you and pay your hotel and feed you. It's a great life."
Why You Should Hear Her: Her latest album, 2011's Just Before Dawn features a mix of originals and covers, including a bluesy cover of the traditional tune "See Lyin' Woman." Though Ellis has occasionally played open mic and blues jams in Cleveland, she's never done a proper gig here. While she couldn't bring her band with her from Germany, she's assembled a Cleveland group to back her for the upcoming show at Music Box Supper Club. She says they'll play "comfortable blues" and she wants to "let the personality of the band come through.
Where You Can Hear Her: sydneyellis.com.
Where You Can See Her: Sydney Ellis and Her Midnight Preachers perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 2, at Music Box Supper Club.