Joan Ellison has been praised for her "vocal prowess....[and] organic grasp of the classic songs" by Michael Feinstein, and described as bringing “a keen blend of vocal splendor and verbal crispness to every musical moment” and “possess[ing] a crystalline voice that never stops” (Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer).
Her long-time immersion in the popular vocal styles of the 1920s to the 1960s includes transcribing over 250 piano and vocal arrangements note-for-note from classic recordings and copying/restoring missing pieces on several of Judy Garland's original orchestrations. This intimate understanding of vintage musical and vocal styles brings distinct freshness and authenticity to her interpretations of classic American standards.
To kick off the 2016-17 season, Joan made her NYC solo cabaret debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below in Get Happy! Judy Garland 1944-’54, of which Cabaret Scenes Magazine wrote: “New York deserves to see and hear more of Joan Ellison.” A reprise of the show at BLU Jazz+ in Akron is slated for July, and then Cleveland's Nighttown in November. Other upcoming highlights include a Sinatra & Garland Celebration with the Bemus Bay Pops Orchestra (NY) in September, a “Swingin’ Holiday” pops concert with the Canton Symphony in December, “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance” featuring Judy Garland songs with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra in January 2017, and an all-Garland concert with the Ohio Valley Symphony in March 2017. A new one-woman theatrical piece, All Happiness, Judy Garland, will have its premiere at the Winter Park Playhouse (Florida) in June 2017.
The winter 2016 TheatreZone (Naples, Florida) production of The Boy From Oz marked the first time Joan had ever actually played Judy Garland, singing in her 1960s style. She sang the young Garland songbook in performances of Love Finds Judy Garland at TheatreZone, the Rocky River Community Center, and the Kent State-Tuscarawas Performing Arts Center last season, and in the debut performance of Get Happy! Judy Garland 1944-’54 at The Bop Stop. In July 2015, Joan released a critically-acclaimed second album,“Retrophonic Gershwin,” featuring her arrangements based on original recordings of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Recorded at Oberlin's Clonick Hall and mixed and mastered by Grammy-winning engineer Robert Friedrich, it also features singer Mark Flanders and duo-pianists.
Joan made her Cleveland Pops Orchestra debut at Severance Hall in 2005 and has since sung more than 30 symphonic pops concerts in repertoire ranging from classic American popular song to The King & I to Wicked. Recent past symphonic performances have included “Judy Garland in Hollywood” with the Wheaton Symphony and conductor Kevin McMahon; “Songwriting Giants of Broadway” and numerous repeat engagements with the Cleveland Pops and conductor Carl Topilow or guest conductor Jason Seber; “Judy Garland in Hollywood” and “Music of World War II” concerts with the Lakeside Symphony and Robert Cronquist; “A Judy Garland Valentine” with the Tuscarawas Philharmonic under Eric Benjamin; “The Music of Richard Rodgers” with the Erie Philharmonic; a return engagement with the Erie Philharmonic with maestro Daniel Meyer for their Holiday Pops concerts; and Garland concerts with the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz.
In addition to touring the country with cabaret shows she co-created, Love Finds Judy Garland and Gershwin On the Air, Joan has played classic leading-lady roles in regional theatre, including Julie in Carousel, Nellie in South Pacific, Lizzie in 110 in the Shade, Eliza in My Fair Lady (in concert), and Claudia in Nine. In 2010, Joan released her debut album, A Date With Judy! Joan Ellison Sings Judy Garland.
She earned an M.M.T. and a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she was elected Pi Kappa Lambda. Early musical highlights while growing up in Iowa included playing Flora in The Turn of the Screw with the Des Moines Metro Opera, opposite Lauren Flanigan, and singing for Liza Minelli when she came to town. She currently serves as the first Teacher of Popular Voice at The Cleveland Institute of Music and a Visiting Guest Artist (singing teacher) with the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House M.F.A. Acting Program. She is a member of Actors’ Equity Association.
New York deserves to see and hear more of Joan Ellison. Marilyn Lester, Cabaret Scenes Magazine
...Rare combination of artist, archivist, and arranger... Michael Feinstein
[Joan] doesn't just blow off the dust — she gets inside the raw material and inhabits it. Piers Ford (U.K.), Cry Me a Torch Song
Joan Ellison, on the other hand, is a ringer for Garland... — the voice, the mannerisms, the look. But this is more than an imitation. She conveys the authority of a superstar. "The Boy from Oz" was worth seeing just for her breathtaking performance. Bill O’Neill, Collier Citizen
Ellison is all freshness, vulnerability, and charm, singing up a storm (and, yes, a rainbow)...She inhabits the texts as if living them anew. Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer
The quality of Ellison’s voice was perfect. Danielle Miceli, New York Cabaret Today
…for aficionados of the popular tunes of the first half of the 20th century and those who enjoy hearing George Gershwin’s brilliant compositions and his brother Ira’s inimitable lyrics performed authentically, this is as close as a modern recording will come. Ellison is to be commended not only for her performance, but also for the scholarship and meticulous research she brings to the project. Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, Fanfare
Joan Ellison has done a very impressive rendition of Judy Garland's singing style in her stage show performances. Roger Hall, Film Music Review
...Intensity and hypnotizing stage presence... Keith Joseph, Scene Magazine
...Sensibility and taste in interpreting and rescuing these songs. Michael Feinstein
Ellison was a versatile wonder, moving easily from brassy torch singer ("Blow, Gabriel, Blow") and gregarious gun slinger ("I Got the Sun in the Morning") to winsome teen ("Over the Rainbow") and adorably narcissistic witch ("Popular"). She possesses a crystalline voice that never stops. Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer
Luminous. She's like a young Audrey Hepburn with a meltingly lovely soprano...You can't take your eyes off her... Linda Eisenstein, The Plain Dealer
Joan Ellison sings like an angel. Christine Howey, Scene Magazine
To say 'Joan lit up the stage' is to use a cliche, but that's why the phrase was coined to begin with. She did just that as she sang the Garland tunes with heartfelt spirit and a warm, vibrant sound — she is a gem! The audience fell in love at first sight and song. Eric Benjamin, Conductor and Composer
To my conductor, artistic administrator, and manager/executive director types: Joan Ellison recently appeared in a summer season-closing concert with the Wheaton Symphony Orchestra. The program is "Get Happy! Judy Garland in Hollywood." She is OUTSTANDING as a singing artist and recapturing not only Garland's vocal sound, but even mannerisms of movement on stage and speaking. Our audience loved her and the calls to the office after the event are copious. This reference is unsolicited, so I hope Joan doesn't mind. Personally, I am looking for each and every opportunity to share the stage with her in seasons forward. Kevin McMahon, Conductor
She caresses ballads with silvery poignancy, nabs the wit in comedy numbers, and emits a belt that Ethel Merman would admire. Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer