Jimmy Ellis Passes Away

March 10, 2012 by Amy Gold

The Trammps, 1973
The Trammps, 1973

R&B singer James T. ("Jimmy") Ellis (Nov. 15, 1937 - March 8, 2012) passed away at 74 on March 8, 2012 in Rock Hill, SC from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Ellis is survived by his wife Beverly, three brothers, a sister, a daughter, a son, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Jimmy Ellis was the lead singer of The Trammps, a 1970s disco group famous for the smash hit, "Disco Inferno." This song, in which Ellis exuberantly belts out the signature refrain, "Burn, baby burn," was first released in late 1976 on The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” album, and it topped the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play charts in early 1977, along with two other album cuts. A long version of this song was included as part of the soundtrack for the hugely popular 1997 film, "Saturday Night Fever," and shortly thereafter, its popularity soared, reaching #9 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1977 and #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following year. Since the late 1970s, this Grammy-winning song has also been included in several other movie soundtracks, and it remains a long time favorite at sporting events.

James Thomas Ellis II was born on November 15, 1937 in Rock Hill, SC. He got his start in music as a teenager by singing in gospel in church. After graduating from high school, he left for Philadelphia to sing with various R&B groups. In the 1960s, Ellis joined the Volcanos (later known as the Moods), and by the early 1970s, the group finally became known as The Trammps. In 1972, The Trammps made their chart debut with "Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart,” and besides “Disco Inferno,” they had a string of hits on the R&B and Pop/Rock charts that also included "Hold Back The Night" (1976), and "That's Where The Happy People Go" (1976).