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Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr.

Blues musician Emmett “Bobby Rush” Ellis, Jr. was born on November 10, 1933 in Haynesville, Louisiana to Mattie Spivey Ellis and Emmett Ellis, Sr. He attended public school in Haynesville until he was eleven years old, at which point he halted his education to help support his family.

Ellis received his first guitar at seven years old, and was taught to sing and play music by his father. He aspired to become a blues musician after hearing the music of Muddy Waters and other artists on the radio. After leaving school at eleven years old, Ellis began working at a cotton gin to help his family financially. In 1947, Ellis moved to Sherrill, Arkansas with his family and found work as a sharecropper. He continued playing guitar during this time, and started his professional music career in 1950, when he played with Elmore James at a club in Arkansas. When he was eighteen years old, he migrated to Chicago, Illinois, and formed the band Bobby Rush and the Four Jivers, which included Pinetop Perkins, Freddie King and Little Walter. He began recording blues music at Chess Records, but was denied work after the Chess brothers learned that he could read. In 1954, he integrated the Bourbon Street nightclub and his band became a regular act there. He recruited comedian Dick Gregory to perform at Bourbon Street. Ellis met Jimmy Reed at Vee-Jay Records, and opened for Reed at a major Chicago venue in 1957. During the course of his career, Ellis befriended other popular blues musicians such as Muddy Waters and B.B. King. In 2015, he played at King’s final show, and performed a harmonica tribute when King passed away shortly afterwards.

Ellis has been widely celebrated for his role in blues music history. In 2006 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. The following year he became the first blues artist to perform in China, which earned him the unofficial title as the International Dean of the Blues. In 2015, he was the recipient of two Blues Music Awards in the categories of Soul Blues Male Artist and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. The same year, he was inducted into the Official Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame. Ellis won a Blues Music Award and his first Grammy Award in 2017 for his album Porcupine Meat, and received an award for Historical Album of the Year for Chicken Heads: A 50 Year History of Bobby Rush. His green-studded suit depicted on the inside cover of Porcupine Meat was donated to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History.

Emmett “Bobby Rush” Ellis, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 12, 2017.

Accession Number

A2017.220

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/12/2017

Last Name

Rush

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
First Name

Bobby

Birth City, State, Country

Haynesville

HM ID

RUS11

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

West Coast

Favorite Quote

Do Unto Others Like You Wish To Be Done Unto You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Mississippi

Birth Date

11/10/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Jackson

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Vegetables, Seafood

Short Description

Blues musician Emmett “Bobby Rush” Ellis, Jr. (1933 - ) formed Bobby Rush and the Four Jivers and spent over fifty years in the music industry. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006 and won a Grammy Award for his album Porcupine Meat in 2017.

Employment

Cotton Gin

Bourbon Street

Chess Records

Jack Rabbits

Favorite Color

White, Green

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about his paternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. remembers leaving school to work at a cotton gin

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about his father's education and occupation

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about his mother's light complexion

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. reflects upon the prevalence of racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. describes his experiences of discrimination at Chess Records

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. recalls his introduction to blues music

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. describes his early musical influences

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. remembers moving with his family to Sherrill, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about his parents' relationship

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about his maternal great-grandfather's estate, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about his maternal great-grandfather's estate, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about WOKJ Radio in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about the programming on WOKJ Radio in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. recalls winning the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2017

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. remembers Elmore James

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about the influence of Jimmy Reed

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. remembers performing with Jimmy Reed in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about his friendship with Muddy Waters

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. remembers playing with B.B. King

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. recalls learning to play the harmonica

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. plays the harmonica

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. describes the stories behind his lyrics

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about music publishing rights, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. talks about music publishing rights, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. recalls his friendships with famous musicians

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. remembers playing in segregated clubs in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. remembers playing in segregated clubs in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. recalls recruiting acts to the Bourbon Street nightclub in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Emmett "Bobby Rush" Ellis, Jr. shares his advice to aspiring musicians