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Red Ellis
and The Huron Valley Boys
Born:  December 21, 1929
Died:  December 29, 2019
WHRV Ann Arbor, MI

About The Artist

Marvin Thrushel "Red" Ellis was an Arkansas native who migrated to Michigan in the early 1950's, working as a radio engineer who organized and led bluegrass gospel groups. They played and recorded for Starday extensively in the early 1960's. His recordings with Jimmy Williams were especially memorable. He eventually moved more in the direction of country gospel. Finally, he returned to Arkansas working as a radio and TV engineer.

Ellis was born and reared near Arkadelphia, Arkansas where he learned the fundamentals of guitar and mandolin before moving to Malvern. He entered military service in 1950 and suffered two combat wounds in Korea. After his discharge, he went to school learning radio and video engineering skills, subsequently moving to Michigan where he plied his trade at radio stations in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and also became a disc jockey as well. Through the latter he became friends with other Southern migrants who shared his love for bluegrass and country gospel music.

One of the latter, Jimmy Williams had earlier worked with the Stanley Brothers and Mac Wiseman. After initially recording a pair of singles on the local Happy Hearts label, they moved to Starday where they did seven four-song EPs in 1959-1960, [all or partially] and the album Holy Cry from the Hills (SLP 165) in early 1962. By that time, Williams had moved on and Red put together a full band, the Huron Valley Boys. They subsequently did a pair of LPs: Sacred Sounds of Bluegrass Music (SLP 203) and Old Time Religion: Bluegrass Style (SLP 273). A variety of bluegrass pickers were band members from time to time, but the principal sidemen were Leonard Styles on banjo and Billy Christian on mandolin. On some songs Red was accompanied by his wife, the former Agee Nugent (1934-2020). In addition to picking and singing, Ellis apparently engineered all these numbers himself.

About 1965 Red founded his own label Pathways and moved to a more contemporary country gospel approach. His recordings featured him as part of a quartet. The others were Roy Maples, Everett Sanders, and Blain Rhodes. He also continued duets with Agee and she did solos as well. These recordings consisted of both singles and long play albums.

In 1968, Red and Agee felt a need to return to Arkansas to better look after their aging parents. He worked as a radio engineer in Camden and later as a TV engineer in Little Rock. His only musical activity seems to have been a return to Michigan in August 1971 when he and Jimmy Williams did two reunion albums for the new Jessup Records. Returning to Arkansas, he lived to the ripe age of ninety. Agee survived him by a year.

Credits & Sources

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Happy Heart
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  113 A No Depression in Heaven
  113 B That Beautiful Home
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  SEP 110 A A Place Upon a Mountain (w/Jimmie Williams and Gospel Harmony Boys)
  SEP 110 A I Heard the Cry from the Cross (w/Jimmie Williams and Gospel Harmony Boys)
  SEP 110 B The Sweetest Dream (w/Jimmie Williams and Gospel Harmony Boys)
  SEP 110 B The Little Adopted Girl (w/Jimmie Williams and Gospel Harmony Boys)
  SEP 120 A I Saw the Angels in Heaven (w/Jimmie Williams and Gospel Harmony Boys)
  SEP 120 A There Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down (w/Jimmie Williams and Gospel Harmony Boys)
  SEP 120 B Rank Strangers (w/Jimmie Williams and Gospel Harmony Boys)
  SEP 120 B Backslider (w/Jimmie Williams and Gospel Harmony Boys)
  SEP 140 B A Higher Power (w/Jimmie Williams)
  SEP 140 B Better Pray (w/Jimmie Williams)
  SEP 140 B Rank Stranger (w/Jimmie Williams)

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