In Memoriam: Ellis Kell

The Quad Cities lost a local legend last week with the passing of Ellis Kell. 

Mr. Kell was well-known for not only his love of music, but also for his enthusiasm for life and the Quad Cities. 

Ellis E. Kell, Jr. was born on August 26, 1955 in Rock Island, Illinois, son of Ellis Sr. and Rose Chambers Kell. He graduated from Rock Island High School in 1973 and earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Augustana College Rock Island in 1979. 

Ellis married Kristie E. Swanson on June 30, 1984 in Rock Island. They had two daughters, Karli and Ali.

After college, Mr. Kell worked for the Rock Island Argus and was one of the creators of QC Online, the newspaper’s website. He also worked as promotion coordinator for the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, record reviewer for The Blues News, and advertising sales coordinator and columnist for Oil the Music Magazine.

In 2004, Ellis joined the new River Music Experience (known locally as the RME) as the Membership, Operations and Special Events Manager. His most recent job title was Director of Programming and Community Outreach.

Music had always been a part of Mr. Kell’s life. His musical career began at age 13, when he joined a kids garage band called Genesis. In 1979 he played with Diamondback, one of the top bands on the Quad-Cities club scene at the time. He then played solo before joining the Blue Collar Band in 1984.

He fronted the Ellis Kell Band starting in 1990 and opened for many renowned artists, including Leon Russell (who also passed away this year), B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Little Feet, and Robert Cray. Mr. Kell stated in interviews one of the biggest thrills in his own musical career was being called back on stage by B.B. King after opening for the musician in 2008.

His band released two albums: “Down to the Levee” in 1993 and “Ellis Kell Band and Friends 2000”. They were also featured in compilations “Run, Run Rudolph: The OIL Christmas Compilation” in 1995 which raised money for Save the Mississippi Wails, a non-profit organization that provided area musicians with financial help for medical bills.

His song “Irish Digger” written in 1994 after the death of his father and modified in 2002 after the death of his daughter was featured in a compilation album. Another song, “Flood of ‘65” got a lot of airplay after the Great Flood of 1993. 

In 1996, his band released a song on the web called “Internet Blues”, which streamed on QC Online’s “Sounds of the Quad Cities”. His music was also featured on Quad-Cities Jukebox, which could be accessed by calling CITYLINE.

Through his work at the River Music Experience, he mentored many young musicians, arranged music programs for children, and organized student-centered camps and classes, such as Rock Camp and Winter Blues.

He was excited about the chance for young people to talk to older musicians: “It’s wonderful to get to see these kids meet these people, and they’re no longer somebody on a screen or an album cover, but they’re real people and they’re nice” he said.

In 2002, after their 17 year old daughter Karlie Rose died in a car accident, Ellis and his wife Kristi created the Karli Rose Kell Music Scholarship Fund, to assist young musicians whose family would not be able to afford music lessons.

Ellis E. Kell, Jr. died on Friday, December 16, 2016 at his home in Rock Island. He was 61 years old. His ashes will be inurned at Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island.

We thank you, Mr. Kell, for sharing your love of history, music, and life with us.

Ellis Kell Performs at DPL's E.D. Stone building's 40th Anniversary [Oct 2008]

Ellis Kell Performs at DPL’s E.D. Stone building’s 40th Anniversary [Oct 2008]

(posted by Cristina)


  • The Quad-City Times, August 10, 1993. Pg. 4 T.
  • The Rock Island Argus, June 26, 1994.
  • The Rock Island Argus, December 19, 1994.
  • The Rock Island Argus, December 7, 1995.
  • The Rock Island Argus, October 28, 1999.
  • The Rock Island Argus, December 22, 1996.
  • The Rock Island Argus, October 27, 1996.
  • The Rock Island Argus, October 13, 2000.
  • The Quad-City Times, September 28, 2003. Pg. H 8.
  • The Quad-City Times, June 12, 2004. Pg. G 9.
  • The Quad-City Times, November 11, 2006. Pg. B 1.
  • The Quad-City Times, May 15, 2007. Pg. A 1.
  • The Quad-City Times, May 16, 2015. Pg. 1.
  • The Quad-City Times, December 20, 2016.

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