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Elaine Ellis

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Information about Elaine Ellis

Profile image of Elaine Ellis

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Dancer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Tan
Favorite Food:
Turkey
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
Que Sera, Sera.

Birthplace

Born:
11/30/1917
Birth Location:
Panama,

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Dancer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Tan
Favorite Food:
Turkey
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
Que Sera, Sera.

Birthplace

Born:
11/30/1917
Birth Location:
Panama
See how Elaine Ellis is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Dancer Elaine Ellis (also known as Calamity Jane) was born November 30, 1917 in Panama. She moved to New York with her mother, Flossie Freeman McNeil, and father, Clifford McNeil, at the age of seven. As a young girl, Ellis learned to dance. She was instructed by friends who attended the Henry LeTang School of Dance. After graduating from Jamaica High School, Ellis taught touch typing and eventually became a traveling instructor. Interested in going into business for herself, Ellis owned and operated a dry cleaner and later a cosmetics counter in a local department store. Disenchanted with business ownership, Ellis answered an open call at the Cotton Club for Spanish girls, and although she only knew four Spanish words, was the last chorus girl hired in 1939.

When the Cotton Club closed in 1940, Ellis continued to perform at Café Zanzibar, Club Mimo, the Lenox Lounge, in Atlantic City and at the Apollo Theater. At the Apollo Theater, Ellis performed with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, and Andy Kirk. A married mother of two, Ellis eventually quit dancing to begin a lucrative twenty-five year bartending career. Ellis tended bars all over Harlem and gained quite a following, winning awards for the most congenial and best bar maid.

In 1986, Ellis was invited by Geraldine Rhodes-Kennedy to join the Silver Belles. Ellis was honored to join a group of former chorus girls including Bertye Lou Wood, Fay Ray, Cleo Hayes, and Marian Coles. The Silver Belles performed at senior centers and regularly, at the Cotton Club. In 1986, the Silver Belles were featured in a documentary about their lives, "Been Rich All My Life" directed and produced by Heather Lyn MacDonald.

Ellis passed away on December 21, 2013, at the age of 96.

Elaine Ellis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 25, 2007.

See how Elaine Ellis is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Elaine Ellis' interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Elaine Ellis lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Elaine Ellis describes her mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Elaine Ellis describes her father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Elaine Ellis recalls living in Panama as a child
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Elaine Ellis remembers moving to New York City
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Elaine Ellis describes her early education
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Elaine Ellis recalls learning to dance
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Elaine Ellis talks about her neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx, New York
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Elaine Ellis describes her early work experiences
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Elaine Ellis remembers dancing at the Cotton Club in New York City
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Elaine Ellis talks about her son and husband
  • Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Elaine Ellis recalls working as a dancer in Atlantic City, New Jersey
  • Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Elaine Ellis recalls working at the Apollo Theater in New York City
  • Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Elaine Ellis recalls working as a bartender
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Elaine Ellis remembers her bartending awards
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Elaine Ellis recalls joining the Silver Belles dancing troupe
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Elaine Ellis recalls her experiences as a dancer at clubs in New York City
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Elaine Ellis remembers the Silver Belles documentary
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Elaine Ellis narrates her photographs