Notable Gift Helps Record Music History

Legendary Oklahoma City blues singer Dorothy Ellis left a charitable gift to perpetuate her impact on Oklahoma history. Photo by Garett Fisbeck/Oklahoma Gazette.

When Dorothy Ellis’ bus pulled into Oklahoma City in 1948, the 13-year-old never imagined she would one day become an Oklahoma legend. Seventy years later, Miss Blues’ impact on music history is remembered thanks to her thoughtful planning and a unique partnership with the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.

Raised on a cotton plantation near Paris, Texas, Dorothy was orphaned at the age of 11. Soon after, she found herself at a bus station buying a ticket to the farthest destination her meager savings could afford – Oklahoma City.

Nicknamed “Miss Blues” at the age of six, Dorothy began singing the blues while working in the Texas cotton fields. She absorbed the soulful sounds of her mother and the other sharecroppers, developing her signature style of “Texas shout” blues.

“Blues has stayed with me at the times when I was all alone,” Ellis once said. “Soon as my mama died, I became a product that nobody wanted. As a consequence, the blues was in my heart, and that’s why I have a passion for it.”

While she performed with a number of bands throughout the years, Miss Blues’ signature howl and spicy lyrics remained the same, earning her a place in the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame and the moniker, Oklahoma’s First Lady of the Blues.

During her lifetime, Miss Blues enjoyed sharing her living history with audiences through the Oklahoma Historical Society. At her death in 2018 at age 82, Miss Blues had been an integral part of the Oklahoma blues scene for seven decades, recording multiple studio albums, performing at blues festivals across the U.S. and authoring two books.

To ensure her influence on our state’s music history lives on, Miss Blues left a generous gift in her estate. She left the rights to her music and copyrights to her books to the Oklahoma Historical Society, and the sale of her house created an endowment at the Oklahoma City Community Foundation to permanently support African-American and music historical programming and exhibits.

Learn how you can leave a gift like Miss Blues to support your favorite charitable cause.