Friends and family packed An die Musik off North Charles Street for an evening of music, good food, and celebration in honor of Ethel L. Ennis, a Baltimore legend.

The internationally recognized jazz vocalist was sure to step into her 80th year in style, complete with outfit changes, catering by Kevin Brown, and entertainment from the Whit Williams Big Band.

Ennis stole the show in a stunning red number with white ruffles down the front, as she pulled in audience members still very much in love with the voice that first captured ears in the late 1940s.

“It feels good to be 80,” Ennis told the AFRO. “I’ve always believed that you can bloom wherever you are planted. I was planted in Baltimore and I’ve never left.”

Born in 1932, Ennis’ love of music began at age seven when she began to learn piano.

According to the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, soon she was playing in her local church and before long, had ventured into many different genres such as classical, rhythm and blues, and gospel.

By 1958, she was touring internationally through Western Europe with big band leader Benny Goodman.

Other collaborations include work with legendary band leaders Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Wynton Marsalis.

By 1982, along with husband, Earl Arnett, recognition came from then-Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who named the pair Cultural Ambassadors of the City of Baltimore.

The awards and accolades didn’t stop on the local level, as Ennis was selected to perform the national anthem at the inauguration of President Richard Nixon a capella and at the First International Music Festival held in Xiamen, China.

Hits to the artist’s name include her 1955 album “Lullabies for Losers” and 1973’s “10 Sides of Ethel.”
Ennis said at this stage in her life, she’s truly “found happiness.”

“I have a happy marriage that has lasted 45 years and in the future I see myself doing more of the same- but better.”

Friend and organizer of the birthday celebration, Robbye Apperson, said she believed Ennis’ performances over the next year will hopefully jumpstart a new section of the idol’s career.

“She did Jazz in the Sculpture Garden at the Baltimore Museum of Art in August and I hope this birthday celebration is seen as a both a party and a launch. My hope is that we will carry this energy throughout Ennis’ 80th year.”

Ennis said that in the near future she hopes to write more pieces that are “not just love songs but self-improvement songs.”

“The way we change the world is the way we change ourselves.”


Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer