Juanita Ellis

Born in 1939, Juanita Chambers was reared in Cincinnati, finding her voice in Charles Fold’s Gospel Messengers while still in attendance at Robert A. Taft High. Her mid-range tenor can be heard on their “Meet Me At The River Jordan.” After a Detroit show, the group was introduced to James Cleveland, who introduced them to Ernestine Rundless, leader of the long-running Meditation Singers. Charles and Juanita joined Ernestine's daughter Laura Lee (a future Chess and Hotwax artist), touring relentlessly with the group until Juanita, road weary and pregnant, finally quit. In 1964, a renamed Juanita Ellis left Cincinnati and a broken marriage for a job at a Cleveland lampshade factory. She concentrated on her daughter Helen for the rest of the decade, upgrading to a job at Keithley Instruments before becoming a licensed electrician. With Helen in her teens, Ellis sang part-time with Earl Preston and the Prestonians, recording several albums and appearing weekly on a televised gospel showcase. With Jimmy Johnson, a friend from Cincinnati, Ellis made her first solo effort. A former Raymond Raspberry Singer, Johnson knew Boddie was the best option for cheap record-cutting. The A-side of Ellis’ eventual single, "Make A Joyful Noise," is a particularly compelling example of Thomas’ ability to capture a large group's intensity and immediacy. The single, more a keepsake than a commercial offering, went nowhere of course, but Ellis continued to sing, moving eventually to years of performance at the helm of the Zion Chapel Missionary Baptist Church choir.

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