Ernie's Story (Part 1 of 5)
Mr. Ernie Elly was born in New Orleans' Sixth Ward, or as locals know it, "Backatown," on June 16, 1942 into an artistic family. His father, Frank Elly, Sr. had a passion for dancing and his mother, Hilda Morris Elly had a hobby of playing the violin. Elly was exposed to various musical styles at an early age. He inherited a love for Country and Western music, especially Hank Williams, Sr., from his mother; an enthusiasm he still has today. Growing up in New Orleans, Elly was deeply influenced by a new genre of music that was booming both locally and nationally; Rhythm and Blues. He began listening closely to the likes of Fats Domino, Little Richard, James Brown and Ray Charles.
Mr. Elly's infatuation with the drums started at an early age. He fondly remembers listening to a Saturday radio program with his eldest brother, Frank Jr., called "This Is Jazz", hosted by Al Gourier which initially exposed him to the likes of Art Blakey, Max Roach, Art Taylor and early Miles Davis. He'd intently watch as his brother would pick up a comb and push and play in time with the music. Elly now considers this to be his first drum lesson. When he was around 12 or 13, another older brother Charles was gifted a drum set by their father and Charles in turn gave it to Ernie. From that moment on, Elly's love for the drums was solidified. "I knew I never wanted to play anything else," he recalls.
While Mr. Ellie considers his brother his first instructor, his first teacher was Miss Yvonne Busch. While in the 9th grade, Elly attended Bell Junior High School which had no music program. At that time Miss Busch taught at another local school, Clarke High School. All the students who wanted to play music would walk over to Clarke to get lessons. The following year when George Washington Carver High School opened and Miss Busch started teaching there, Ernie followed. Miss Busch was very influential to Mr. Elly as she was not only the first person to teach him to read music, but she was also the first person to sit him behind a drum set; something he is still extremely grateful for to this day.
While honing his skill set behind the drums at Carver, Ernie and six other friends decided to start a seven-piece rhythm and blues band. They would charge $7 a man, which Ellie provides was "big time" back then, and each musician would throw in a dollar so they could rent a PA to play dances, picnics and charity suppers. They'd even perform at some private parties and a few clubs including the famed, now-demolished, "Club Desire." "We were mostly all 18 except for the guitar player who was 16," Ellie recalls, "we had to draw a little mustache on him and put him in the back to get him in the clubs sometimes."
Photo courtesy of Ernie Elly.