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Ellis Hooks was born in Mobile, Alabama to a full Cherokee mother and a father of African American descent. The third youngest of 16 children, he didn't have a pair of shoes until he was eight, and wasn't permitted to know the meaning of fun. "We weren't allowed to play after school or on Saturdays because we'd be picking peas for the white folks," Ellis explains, "and we'd spend all day Sunday in church." His strict Baptist family had nothing but disdain for secular music, so when the fourteen year old Ellis heard the radio and lost interest in leading the church choir he was thrown out of the household.
Hitch-hiking across the United States and supporting himself doing a variety of odd jobs, at age eighteen he eventually landed in New York. Ellis sang in the streets so he'd have enough money to eat, and on one occasion was almost 'discovered.' "I was singing in Central Park and Diana Ross came walking by in a yellow dress and told me she loved my voice and wanted to put me in the studio. She set up time for me at the Power Station but I wasn't ready, I didn't even have any of my own songs. I was so freaked out I never showed up. I was too young." Ellis traveled the world busking, living for awhile in Paris and Amsterdam, but settled back in New York when he was twenty-five. He tried putting bands together, but never found the right people to play with him. "I was ready to give up," Ellis offers, "I had sung in front of so many people and never had a record out, I figured it just wasn't going to happen for me."
As the year 2000 approached Ellis was contemplating moving back to Alabama to become a preacher, but on January 25th a friend dragged him along on a meeting with producer Jon Tiven. Tiven, the producer/writer of Wilson Pickett's comeback album 'It's Harder Now' (recipient of three W.C. Handy Awards and a Grammy nomination) was knocked out by Hooks. They embarked on a series of recordings that would eventually emerge as his U.K. debut Undeniable and this American debut Up Your Mind.