The Ellis Music Story

Making the World a More Musical Place

Richard Ellis

Ellis Music Company dates back to 1946, when company founder Richard (Dick) Ellis began acquiring instruments for his own students, who lived in rural communities miles from the nearest music store. The modest business that he began eventually expanded to become the region's most trusted source for instrument rentals, sales, and repair services.

Dick Ellis’s ambition, beginning around the 5th grade, was to play baritone sax in a big band. He grew up in South Royalton, Vermont, attending the town's public school. He did his homework in front of the family’s Atwater Kent radio while listening to big band music. As a high school sophomore, he organized a five-piece dance band, in which he played alto and tenor sax and did most of the arranging. That band performed regularly at local grange halls and other venues. Though he desired a career in music, the high school guidance counselor advised against it, saying it wasn’t possible to make a living through music in Vermont. He subsequently attended the University of Vermont, taking courses in engineering. Dick worked for a brief time as an engineer but quickly realized that his passion for music was not being satisfied.

In the 1940s, Dick spent a year in the Big Band music scene, touring as the baritone sax player for Mal Hallett’s big band before enrolling at New England Conservatory as a brass major so he could improve his skills and become a teacher. Dick faced a difficult choice when Gene Krupa called from Hollywood with an offer to join his band and tour the country, but the decision he made to remain closer to home turned out to be momentous for his musical legacy.


combined bandsOne of the massed bands comprised of musicians from the various schools in which Dick taught music.


Dick began teaching private music lessons in central Vermont and started bands in South Royalton, Randolph, Rochester, and Bethel. During his public school teaching years, he led what may have been Vermont’s first dance band in 1951, and later, in 1967, put together a stage band called the “Young Vermonters”, comprised of students from the four schools in which he taught. The Young Vermonters performed for the state music educators' convention, the UVM Summer Music Session, and Governor Dean Davis’ Inaugural Ball. Music from the Young Vermonters was later loaned to the Vermont Jazz Ensemble when that group was getting started.

In order to provide his students with affordable instruments, Dick began renting instruments, originally for as little as $1 a week. Eventually, music educator colleagues began asking for instruments and supplies for their students, which led to the founding of Ellis Music Company.

Dick and Polly Ellis 2001Dick's wife of 65 years, Polly, helped keep the books and his children worked in the family business too, which was operated out of his home until 1988, when Ellis Music Company moved into its current 7,200-square-foot facility on Route 107 near the Bethel/Royalton town line. Dick was president of Ellis Music Company from its founding in 1946 until his retirement in 1989. At that point, day-to-day operation of the business was passed on to three of Dick's children - David, Marti, and Joan - though Dick continued to be involved with the company, helping out each year during the busy season, until he passed away in 2015.

Dick Ellis with Robert PrestonDick was well known throughout Vermont as an active musician. For over 50 years he led “The Keynotes”, a six-piece combo specializing in big band music whose members played a combined total of 22 different instruments. He played saxophone as a regular or substitute in most of the region's swing bands. And he conducted the South Royalton Town Band for 71 years. (The South Royalton Town Band appears in and played music for the 1980 version of "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" starring Robert Preston.) In 2001, the Vermont Music Educators Association presented a special recognition award to Dick for his lifelong contributions to music education in the region.

Today, with a staff of approximately twenty employees, Ellis Music Company continues to operate under the direction of the Ellis family, adhering to its founding principle: supporting music in the region by providing high quality affordable instruments, reliable repairs, and personalized service.

The advertisement below was published in September 1959 in the first edition of "Vermont Music News", the official publication of the Vermont Music Educators Association. Old Ellis Music Advertisement

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