Ellis began his career as a pianist piano solos played for a local radio station (later KNOWN AS KRPC), early twenties. In 1925 he recorded with the Orchestra of Lloyd Finlay for Victor and then took a few piano solos for the label on this piano-numbers were not released., but Victor invited him for solo sessions in the studio in Camden, where he recorded fourteen songs, most of the compositions of his hand. Four of them appeared on plate: they were among the first records that Victor made using electric microphones. The record "Prairie Blues"/"Sentimental Blues" became a modest hit.
After these recordings Ellis returned back to Houston, where he played in vaudevilletheatres and also sang for the radio. His voice fell into the taste and he was invited to come to New York for recordings forColumbia. Then he made a series of recordings for Okeh Records, where he was tutored by small groups that he himself should compile. Ellis chose men as the brothers Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Andy Sannella, Mugsy Spanier and, twice, Louis Armstrong. On these plates, he sang with a bittersweet alto voice.
In 1928 he toured England. Afterwards he was for some years the manager of the Mills Brothers, but he also remained active as a musician. So he worked occasionally at the Paul Whiteman Orchestra that played for the radio. He also appeared in some movies, including Ida Lupino ("One Rainy Afternoon", 1934). At the end of 1935 he came up with a big band with an unusual occupation (eight brass and a clarinet player), the Choir of Brass Orchestra, with which he made recordings for Decca Records . In 1939, he pitched to the occupation and he came up with a more usual occupation. Ellis has conducted itself and also sang occasionally, next to his wife Irene Taylor who previously had worked with Paul Whiteman. Later he concentrated especially on composing: his "you're All I Want for Christmas" was later covered by Frankie Laineand Bing Crosby.
- An Hour of Classic Hymns (Brass Choir Orchestra), Light Records, 1996
- Jazz in a Sentimental Mood, Old Masters, 2001
- Choirs of Brass (1937), Alamac