Jonathan Ellison was crowned the new “King of Beale Street” in 2019. He released his debut album, “Guitar Cry for Me” to rave reviews from Living Blues Magazine and other outlets. Jonathan plans a summer 2023 release for a new single as well as a full album, “Rhythm and Soul Blues Man” in 2024. He is the recipient of the WC Handy Heritage Award. Jonathan is currently nominated for Contemporary Blues Album for “Changing Times” with the group Silent Partners. Jonathan, along with Silent Partners, is also nominated for the prestigious Sean Costello Rising Star Award.
“The Ellison Family was performing in churches in the South. My dad couldn’t afford to buy us a tuner. He taught us to tune to Eb, the black keys on the piano. I didn’t use a tuner until I was in college.” -Jonathan Ellison
“We were like the gospel version of The Jackson Five.” Jonathan Ellison has a resonant, eloquent way of speaking about his musical upbringing in Brownsville, TN. The Ellison Family gospel group, established in the 1970s, featured Jonathan’s Mom, Ella Wee Ellison on vocals and his Dad, Ivory T. Ellison, played lead guitar. Ivory Ellison taught each of his children to play instruments. Jonathan learned to play multiple instruments by the time he was ten.
The Ellisons lived on a country road in Brownsville built beside a cotton field. “It was a musical melting pot,” says Jonathan. “Most everybody living on that road played an instrument. We’d put a couple guitar amps outside under the carport and play music. I learned to play from my father, brothers and neighborhood fellas as well.”
Jonathan is the youngest of eight children. “Dad always told us we were not better than anybody and no one was better than us. He always said, ‘Just be yourself.’ Dad looked at music as a joy. He worked several jobs so we could travel to churches and perform. He also had his own radio show. I started going to the station with him when I was five. When I was twelve, a spot became available, and I had my own radio show that I hosted until I was nineteen.”
“Keep your car full of gas. Don’t be broke and hungry and caught on empty….” Ella Wee Ellison
Jonathan played in the “family business” until college. A student at the University of Memphis, he was only sixty miles away from home. “I always kept my gas tank full. Memphis allowed me to be independent, but also close to family.”
Immersed in the Memphis scene, Jonathan started playing with community choirs and solo artists. He played for workshops and gospel recording sessions. His reputation as a musical artist led to playing lead guitar at BB Kings Blues Club.
Jonathan was also part of the BB King Allstars in conjunction with Tommy Peters and the Beale Street Music Company. He performed in over sixty-two countries with The Allstars at The BB King Clubs on the Holland America Cruise ships.
Jonathan was the Musical Director and lead guitarist for the Queen of the Blues and Southern Soul, Ms. Denise LaSalle, until her death in 2018. Jonathan says the experience profoundly influenced his musical direction, but not his heart and soul and musical ministry.
“I knew I could not make a living at gospel. The first secular gig I did, I made money. Gospel is my heart, my foundation, and I don’t feel I’m just a blues artist. I’m a rhythm and soul blues man.”
“I believe no matter what kind of music I’m playing, I’m still in my ministry…I want to positively affect the hearts and minds of the audience.”
Jonathan’s gospel roots are always evident, no matter the venue in which he’s performing. “My ministry is God first. On stage, God in me is going to reflect out and onto an audience. Being on stage is my mission.”
Jonathan explains, “When you walk into a club, there’s an audience. That doesn’t happen by accident. They bought a ticket to be there. There may be someone dealing with depression or a broken relationship. I hope my music can change minds and uplift spirits. My music comes from my heart and reaches their heart and says a prayer.
A person’s mind may be in a better place after my performance.”
Jonathan’s unique musical perspective make him an unforgettable performer. His rich history, dedication to his craft, core beliefs and love of performance are a reflection of his inspiring soul.