Ellen McIlwaine


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Ellen McIlwaine (born in Nashville, Tennessee, on 1 October 1945; died in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on June 23, 2021) was an American-born singer-songwriter and musician remembered for her career as a solo singer, songwriter and slide guitarist (in Canada from 1987). In 2019, McIlwaine was awarded Toronto Blues Society's "Blues with a Feeling" Lifetime Achievement Award.

Adopted by missionaries and raised in Kobe, Japan, on moving back to the United States McIlwaine bought a guitar, beginning a stage career in Atlanta, Georgia in the mid-1960s. In 1966, she had a stint in New York City's Greenwich Village where she opened every night at the Cafe Au Go Go, playing with Jimi Hendrix, and opening for Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Big Joe Williams. She returned to Atlanta to form the band Fear Itself, a psychedelic blues rock band.

After recording one album with Fear Itself, McIlwaine went solo, recording two albums for Polydor, Honky Tonk Angel (1972) and We the People (1973), the latter featuring a hit single, "I Don't Want to Play". Those albums, and most of her work since, have featured McIlwaine's approach to acoustic slide guitar. This was followed by The Real Ellen McIlwaine, recorded for the indepdendent Canadian label Kot'ai, which featured two of her 'signature' songs, her slide guitar version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and "The Secret In This Lady's Heart".

By the mid-1970s McIlwaine's songs "Sliding", "We the People" and "Losing You" were included on the compilation album, The Guitar Album.

McIlwaine's album The Real Ellen McIlwaine, was recorded in Montreal in 1975 for the Kotai label, and included the Stevie Wonder song 'Higher Ground'. Her intro later appeared on the David Holmes Essential Collection. A 1982 project, Everybody Needs It won the NAIRD Indie Award, and featured Jack Bruce.

After moving to Canada in 1987, (first Toronto, later Alberta), McIlwaine recorded Looking for Trouble for Stony Plain Records, which also re-released her early vinyl material on CD. Her next CD Women in (e)motion Festival/Ellen McIlwaine, was recorded live in Germany in 1999; and then Spontaneous Combustion featuring Taj Mahal on the German Tradition und Moderne label.

In 2006 she started her own label, Ellen McIlwaine Music, and released Mystic Bridge featuring the Indian tabla drummer Cassius Khan. They were joined by the soprano saxophone of Linsey Wellman on three tracks.

In 2008, 2009, and 2010 she toured with Patty Larkin's La Guitara ensemble in the US, and in Canada with Sue Foley's Guitar Women, and appeared at various US and Canadian venues and festivals as a solo artist. In 2013 she traveled to Los Angeles to be part of the Jimi Hendrix documentary Hear My Train A Comin. In 2019, McIlwaine was awarded Toronto Blues Society's "Blues with a Feeling" Lifetime Achievement Award.

As a female vocalist who mainly played acoustic guitar, her music tended to be classified in the folk sections of record stores, despite her strong roots in blues, soul and rock music and her cover versions of songs by artists such as Isaac Hayes, Stevie Wonder and Browning Bryant. She recorded several covers of songs by Jimi Hendrix and "The Secret of This Lady's Heart", one of her most popular original songs, was written as a tribute to him. Read more about Ellen McIlwaine on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.

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1945-10-01 to 2021-06-23


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