In Memoriam – Chairman Tom
The legacy of Tom’s passion for Gospel Music is known all across Texas and much of the Southwest. The great Gospel singing groups of the 1950s and 60s inspired him to follow his dream of having his own family group, much like the popular family groups at the time: The Happy Goodmans, The Speer Family, The Chuck Wagon Gang and The Wills Family. During those early years of the singing Ellis Family they discovered and new exciting organization: the Southern Gospel Music Association of Texas, founded in 1972. Their family group, with just a few personnel changes along the way, Kept Tom and his wife Marie traveling almost every weekend and singing at every single SGMA event. Eventually Tom would be voted in as a member of the Board of Directors and when his close friend Calvin Wills left the post as President of the SGMA, Tom took over that role. He continued to serve through out the years, being named Chairman of the Board in 2002 and leading the organization until his passing. He and Marie also published the official news magazine of the SGMA: The Texas Gospel Music News. They faithfully promoted and published the paper for 25 years. All the time and energy he spent during those years in all three of these endeavors was just the beginning of Tom’s life-long passion for Gospel Music.
In the early 1980s Tom lead the charge along with his partners, Calvin Wills and James Fudge to bring national recognition of Texas as the home of traditional Southern Gospel Music by giving it “equal standing” among all other genres and styles of popular American Music: Country, Soul, Blues, Jazz, Bluegrass, etc. These men spent many months doing research and traveling to major music venues to learn how they could bring a similar event destination to the DFW area. Much like Opryland, Dollywood, Graceland and Branson, they began with blueprints and plans for The Texas Music Center near Joe Pool Lake. That vision evolved into the Texas Music Hall of Fame and then was eventually chartered in the State of Texas as the Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
This new organization got off to a great start in 1985 with the induction of their first Texas Music heroes: V. O. Stamps and J. R. Baxter and the Texas fiddler, Bob Wills. Calvin’s father, Aaron Burr Wills, was a first cousin to Bob. Since those initial Texas-shaped plaques were presented, over 100 very talented Texans (and groups) have been inducted into the TGMHF! As the Board of Directors was selected through the late 80s, once again Tom was chosen as the Chairman to work along-side Calvin (President) and Jim Fudge. These three men along with other board members. Lou Hildreth, Randy Wills, Rudy Gatlin began to grow the team and develop the funding and growth of the organization. The current board of ten members established a very special series of TGMHF Induction programs at Dallas Baptist University from 2005 to 2015. With Tom’s encouraging spirit and and enthusiasm, even after Calvin and James passed on, The Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame added many nationally known artists to the roster. Just to highlight a few from the INDUCTEES tab of this website: Dallas Holm, Cynthia Clawson, Duane Allen, The Galileans, Kurt Kaiser, Bill Mack, Larry Ford, Walt Mills, The Gatlin Brothers, Art Greenhaw, Guy Penrod, Glen Payne and many more…
As leader of his own local North Texas music group for so many years and because of his passion for helping and promoting many good part-time Gospel singers, Tom and Marie established the Fan Awards event, sponsored by the Texas Gospel Music News magazine. Soloists and groups from all across the area were selected by supporters and “fans” to be on the program and receive special recognition! The awards concert was held annually in Garland for over 10 years and is still remembered now with great fondness and fun stories.
Tom Ellis loved his Savior and his family and HIS music. The music of God’s people – Gospel Music! He dedicated his life’s work to promoting and preserving the heritage and history of Gospel Music in the great State of Texas.