Alton Nehemiah Ellis, OD, was born September 1, 1938 and grew up in Kingston's Trench Town district in Jamaica. He attended Ebeneezer and Boy's Town schools, where he excelled in both music and sports.
Ellis initially sought fame as a dancer, competing on Vere John's Opportunity Hour. After winning a couple of competitions, he switched to singing, starting his career in 1959 as part of the duo Alton & Eddy with Eddy Perkins.
Ellis and Perkins recorded for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, initially in the R&B style, having a massive hit with Muriel, a song Ellis had written whilst working as a laborer on a work site. He also recorded follow-ups songs My Heaven, Lullabye Angel, I Know It All, I'm Never Gonna Cry and Yours.
The duo also recorded a few tracks for Vincent Chin's Randy's label, but came to an end when after winning a major talent contest, Perkins moved to the United States. Ellis remained in Kingston.
Ellis restarted his music career after perkins left, initially forming a new duo with John Holt. When Holt joined The Paragons, Ellis formed a new group, The Flames. Ellis continued to work for Dodd and also recorded for his Dodds arch-rival, Duke Reid on his Treasure Isle label.
In the mid 1960s, ska was moving on and the beat was slowing down to rocksteady. Ellis scored big with the hits Girl I've Got a Date, Cry Tough and Rock Steady, which was the first song to refer to the name of the newer genre Rock Steady. As rocksteady dominated the Jamaican airwaves for the next two years, Ellis continued to score hits for Treasure Isle, working with artists such as Lloyd Charmers, Phyllis Dillon and The Heptones.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ellis recorded for some of Jamaica's top producers, having two huge hits with Lloyd Daley in Deliver Us and Back to Africa and recording for Bunny Lee, Keith Hudson, and Herman Chin Loy.
Ellis toured the United Kingdom in the 1967 with Ken Boothe and Studio One session band the Soul Vendors and on his return to Jamaica he worked with Dodd, recording the tracks that would be released as his debut album Alton Ellis Sings Rock & Soul.
In 1972 Ellis decided to base himself permanently in the UK. Ellis continued to record and perform regularly, recording in the early 1980s for emerging producers including Henry "Junjo" Lawes, Sugar Minott, and King Jammy.
In 2004, Ellis was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in recognition of his achievements. In December 2007, he was admitted to hospital in London for treatment of cancer of the lymph glands, but he returned to live performance after receiving chemotherapy.
Ellis died on October 10, 2008 at Hammersmith Hospital, west London, of cancer. A funeral service and celebration of his life was held on the November 03, 2008, attended by family, fans, music industry personnel and government ministers, with tribute performances from stars including Winston 'Fix It' Francis, Tinga Stewart, George Nooks, Tony Gregory, Ken Boothe, Judy Mowatt and Carlene Davis.
Alton Nehemiah Ellis fathered more than twenty children including Noel Ellis and Christopher Ellis, who are both reggae singers.
Sings Rock and Soul (Studio One, 1967)
Mr Soul of Jamaica (Treasure Isle, 1967)
The Best Of (Coxsone, 1969)
Sunday Coming (Coxsone, 1970)
Greatest Hits (Count Shelly, 1973)
- Later released as Cry Tough (Heartbeat, 1993)
Still in Love (Horse, 1977)
A Love to Share (Third World, 1979)
Showcase (Studio One, 1984)
Slummin' (Abraham, 198?)
A New Day (Body Music, 1983)
Daydreaming (Silver Camel, 1983)
25th Silver Jubilee (Sky Note, 1984)
Continuation (All Tone, 1985)
Jubilee Volume 2 (Sky Note, 1985)
Here I Am (Angella, 1988)
Family Vibes (All Tone, 1992)
Man From Studio One (All Tone, 1994)
Change My Mind (Orchard, 2000)
More Alton Ellis (T.P., 2001)
Live with Aspo: Workin' on a Groovy Thing (Belleville International/Patate Records, 2001)