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Ethel Ennis began performing on the piano in high school, but her natural vocal abilities soon eclipsed those as a pianist. Embarking on a solo career, she recorded a number of sides for Atlantic Records before the LP debut, 1955's Lullabies for Losers was released by Jubilee Records. In 1957, Ennis moved to the Capitol Records label for a two-album contract, and A Change of Scenery was released. Soon after the 1958 follow-up LP Have You Forgotten, Ennis took a six-year hiatus from recording during which she toured Europe with Benny Goodman.
Ennis was again invited to the recording studios in 1963, recording four LPs for RCA Victor. However, disenchanted with the creative direction of the label and artist management, Ennis left RCA Victor and took another hiatus. Eight years would pass before she received another recording contract. During this period she sang the title song for the 1967 feature film Mad Monster Party?. The BASF LP 10 Sides of Ethel Ennis emerged in 1973 and later that year Ennis, a Democrat, was invited to sing at the re-inauguration of Richard Nixon. Ethel's unusual a cappella rendition of the national anthem shocked some, but inspired many others.
Earlier on, Ethel had returned to her hometown of Baltimore, and sang outside the area only a handful of times in the next several decades. Then in 1980 to the delight of loyal fans she reappeared, releasing a live album.
After not having a recording with widespread attention for many years, Ennis was brought back to national attention in 1994 with a self-titled NYC studio album produced by her long-time drummer, Paul Hildner. It reached the Jazz Top 40 radio chart. James Gavin of the New York Times in a review states, "Her long, seductive 'Save the Best for Last' finds surprising depth in that Vanessa Williams hit, and she unlocks all the quiet wisdom of 'I Can Let Go Now,' Michael McDonald's ballad about the moment when the pain of a failed relationship ends. Mr. Gress, the pianists Stefan Scaggiari and Marc Copland, and the drummer Paul Hildner help give the album its stark, shadowy mood."
In 1998, Ennis once again recorded for a major label with If Women Ruled the World on Savoy Jazz. The most recent Ennis recording was a critically praised 2005 live set, captured in performance at Montpelier in her home state of Maryland. Between January 1978 and April 1980 two of her tracks, "Sing Me a Tune" and "Call Me Young", were used on a tape played with Testcard F on BBC1.
Atlantic – NYC, December 18, 1956