Hortense Mahalia Ellis was born 18th April 1941 in Trench Town, Jamaica, the younger sister of the late reggae superstar Alton Ellis. Her first break came in 1960 by appearing on Vere John's Opportunity Hour - and being repeatedly invited back. In the early 60's Hortense toured Jamaica with Byron Lee and The Dragonaires while honing her skills in the studio with producers such as Ken Lack and Clement "Coxsone" Dodd. Around this time she was also recording duets with male artists such as Derrick Morgan and her brother Alton Ellis. Her best known Coxsone sides include "Sitting In The Park", "Secretly", "Cry Together", "Willow Tree" and "Why Birds Fly". Hortense went on to record with other producers including Augustus Clarke and Dudley "Manzie" Swaby and also, for a brief spell, recorded under the name Mahalia Saunders (a combination of her own middle name and her married name). Hortense also cut one side under the name Dawn Love. Aside from recording original Jamaican songs, Hortense also covered soul classics such as "Down The Aisle" (Patti Labelle), "Young Hearts Run Free" (Candy Staton) and "Loving Arms" but also recorded her own beautiful versions of Elvis Presley hits "Wooden Heart" and "Suspicious Minds".
One of Hortense's best known hits was "Unexpected Places" dating from 1978 and produced by Gussie Clarke. Also in the mid/late 70's she joined Johnny Clarke in the making of an R & B ballad style album marketed under the title "Sly & Robbie Present Lovers Rock" which also featured solo performances from Pat Kelly. Meanwhile Hortense's old Coxsone hit "Sitting In The Park" was re-recorded for producer Martin Williams while "Secretly" was re-recorded for Dudley "Manzie" Swaby. During the 1990's Hortense began suffering ill health which affected her live performances but she remained active in the studio. She became seriously ill while in Miami in the summer of 1999 and should have sought immediate treatment. Instead, she insisted on struggling home to her beloved Jamaica where she was immediately hospitalized. Hortense Ellis - Jamaica First Lady Of Songs - passed away in her sleep in Kingston Public Hospital on 19th October 2000. She left nine children and 26 grand-children.
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