Seger P. Ellis was born on July 4, 1904, in Houston. His father was a prominent banker and hoped that Seger would join him in that business. Seger Ellis became interested in playing piano from watching Houston pianists Peck Kelley, Charlie Dixon, and Jack Sharpe, but he had no formal training in the instrument. Following high school, in 1921 he began playing solo piano for an hour and a half each week on local radio—what was later called station KPRC. In 1925 he auditioned for Victor Records in Houston and was brought in to perform as a member of the Lloyd Finlay Orchestra on field recordings. Impressed by Ellis’s playing, Victor representatives invited him to their studio in Camden, New Jersey, to record more songs using a new invention, the electric microphone. Two of his compositions, “Prairie Blues” and “Sentimental Blues,” became hits. His first royalties from Victor for “Prairie Blues” totaled $3,500. After the session Ellis returned to Houston and resumed work in vaudeville and radio. He also began singing to his piano playing.
Ellis quickly became one of the most popular keyboard artists during the 1920s. He also had the distinction of helping introduce Victor Talking Machine Company’s innovative Orthophonic Victrola. He toured England in 1928 and headlined at Café de Paris in London. During the late 1920s he recorded for the Columbia and OKeh labels and was the third ranked recording artist in record sales in the United States. His recordings included legendary jazz accompanists such as Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Pee Wee Russell, and Louis Armstrong.
In 1930 he had a nightly national radio program on WLW, Cincinnati. He discovered the Mills Brothers there and became the group’s manager. During the 1930s he also appeared with the Paul Whiteman orchestra. In 1936 he sang in the film One Rainy Afternoon. By that same year he had organized his band, the Choir of Brass, which featured four trumpets and four trombones. His first wife, vocalist Irene Taylor, who had performed with the Paul Whiteman outfit, eventually performed as vocalist with the Choir of Brass. He played at large hotels in New York that had airtime. In 1941 the group disbanded, and Ellis moved back to Texas. In 1942 he joined the United States Army Air Corps.
During the 1940s and 1950s he continued to find success with his songwriting. Some of his most popular pieces included “No Baby, Nobody But You,” “Shivery Stomp,” “Gene’s Boogie” recorded by Gene Krupa, “You Be You But Let Me Be Me,” and the standard “You’re All I Want For Christmas” recorded by Bing Crosby. He also wrote “Oilers”—the official song of the Houston Oilers professional football team. Ellis lived out his life in Houston and went into the nightclub business for several years. He died in Houston on September 29, 1995, at the age of ninety-one and was buried in that city in Hollywood Cemetery. He was survived by his wife Pamela and a stepson.
All Music Guide (www.allmusicguide.com), accessed January 15, 2010. Allan Dodge, Liner Notes, Seger Ellis: Jazz in a Sentimental Mood (Old Masters, 2001). Houston Chronicle, October 1, 1995.
Texas in the 1920s
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Clayton T. Shorkey and Laurie E. Jasinski,
“Ellis, Seger P.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed September 23, 2021,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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