Guitarmania Vlll (2008), Calgary Bluesfest (2011)
Born in Nashville, where she was adopted by Southern Presbyterian Missionaries, McIlwaine was raised in Japan. She began playing rock & roll piano at age five, and listened to New Orleans-style rhythm & blues, Latin, Japanese classical and folk music, American jazz, country music, and European classical music.
Returning to America in 1963, Ellan performed first in Atlanta clubs, then in New York, meeting such greats as Richie Havens, Dave Van Ronk, Odetta, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Jimi Hendrix, and others. Since 1969, she's released more than a dozen recordings on major labels, and has been included on numerous guitar and female guitar compilations.
Ellen has lived between Atlanta, New York, Montreal, Toronto and Calgary, and has toured Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and North America, among others. She performs solo and as a power trio with bassist Jack Bruce (Cream) and drummer Paul Wertico (Pat Metheney). Ellen has shared the bill with Laura Nyro, Howlin' Wolf, Son House, Weather Report, Lily Tomlin, Taj Mahal, George Thorogood, Tom Waits, Chicago, Bruce Springsteen, Koko Taylor, Taj Mahal, and Johnny Winter, among the many.
Ellen's multicultural background has been incorporated into her sound, with Jamaican, Egyptian, and Lebanese influences coming through in her music. She's written scores for live theatre and film, as well as recorded and toured playing Japanese electronica and dance music. Currently she is performing and recording with classical Tabla.
Her multi-cultural influences, and her unique style of slide guitar, playing bass lines against driving rhythms and singing lead guitar lines, along with her powerfully moving vocals and scatting acrobatics, have earned her legendary cult status. DJs have released remixes of Ellen's recordings, including Fat Boy Slim's sample of her guitar in his chart-topping single. A one-hour documentary on her life and musical background entitled A Slide Through Time: Ellen McIlwaine Live! was filmed and aired on Bravo television.