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Ellas Bates was born in McComb, Mississippi in 1928. He didn’t exactly have an easy childhood and was eventually adopted by his mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel. In 1934, the McDaniel’s moved to the South Side of Chicago where Ellas changed his name to Ellas B. McDaniel. He was active in Chicago’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he learned the trombone and violin.
After high school, Ellas worked as mechanic and carpenter while earning extra money playing music on the street corners of Chicago. Eight years later, he recorded several hit singles and was invited to perform on the Ed Sullivan show. Due to a misunderstanding, Ed Sullivan banned Ellas from the show, saying – “he wouldn’t last six months.”
Ellas would prove Sullivan wrong. Within five years, Ellas had recorded eleven full-length albums and had multiple hit singles.
Are you still wondering — who is Ellas B. McDaniel?
Nobody’s really sure when Ellas moved to Washington D.C. and set up a recording studio in the basement of his home. It had to be 1957 or ’58. We know this because Marvin Gaye was working for Ellas as his valet and it was this little basement recording studio that Ellas co-wrote and produced Marvin’s first record.
Ellas influenced, recorded, and played with a range of talented musicians, including; The Grateful Dead, Tom Petty, The Everly Brothers, Little Richard, the Rolling Stones, George Thorogood, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holley, Bob Seger, The Clash, the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, the Beatles and so many more.
In 1971, Ellas moved to New Mexico where he served as a volunteer deputy sheriff, donating three highway-patrol cars while working there.
Ellas then moved to Florida. The last 13 years of his life, he lived in Archer, Florida near Gainesville.
Ellas died in 2008 and is buried in Levy County – Florida, in the Rosemary Hill Cemetery.
Ellas is a member of the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, and a “Pioneer in Entertainment Award” from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters.
On his tombstone, is a picture of his signature square red guitar. An instrument of his own design. If you go there, you can’t miss it. The marker is a good six feet high, eight feet wide, and sits underneath a huge sprawling oak tree near the main highway. It’s a quiet rural cemetery.
The monument has carved into the base of the stone, Ellas B. McDaniel. But, at the top — is the name we all knew him by, “Bo Diddley.”