Joan Ellison has been praised for her "vocal prowess....[and] organic grasp of the classic songs" by Michael Feinstein. She has made a specialty of reviving Judy Garland’s repertoire from the golden Hollywood years to her Carnegie Hall concert and television show, including restoring Ms. Garland’s glorious original orchestrations. Joan’s 2016 NYC solo cabaret debut prompted Cabaret Scenes Magazine to describe her as “Judy-esque in appearance and…a near voice double for her idol.”
Her intimate understanding of retro musical styles of the 1920s to the 1960s comes from transcribing over 250 piano and vocal arrangements note-for-note from original recordings, bringing distinct freshness and authenticity to her interpretations of classic American standards. At Michael Feinstein’s invitation, she serves as Editor of the Judy Garland Carnegie Hall Concert Restoration Project for the Judy Garland Heirs Trust.
The 2019-’20 season kicks off in June with a song-for-song recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert hosted by her daughter, Lorna Luft, conducted by Michael Berkowitz (Liza Minnelli’s former conductor), with Joan and fellow vocalists Debbie Gravitte, Karen Mason, and Gabrielle Stravelli. It will be the first airing of the new arrangement restorations, played by a 40-piece orchestra at the historic Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Other upcoming highlights include “Get Happy! A Judy Garland Celebration” with the New Haven (CT), Bartlesville (OK), and Ashland (OH) Symphonies and the Whiting Park Festival Orchestra (IN), a performance at the annual Judy Garland Festival in Judy’s birthplace of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and “The American Musical on Stage and Screen” as part of the 2019 Bard Music Festival (NY). “A Tribute to Judy and Liza at the Palladium,” with Carolann Sanita and conductor/drummer Michael Berkowitz, will play TheatreZone (FL), where Joan played Judy to Carolann’s Liza in the first professional regional production of The Boy From Oz in 2016.
The 2018-’19 season included the debut of “A Tribute to Judy and Liza at the Palladium” with the Santa Rosa Pops and conductor Michael Berkowitz, “Get Happy! A Garland Celebration” with the Toledo Symphony, “Garland to Gershwin” with Richard Glazier and the Evansville Philharmonic, and multiple Holiday Pops appearances singing retro holiday hits including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with the Erie Philharmonic and Augusta Symphony. Joan made her Cleveland Pops Orchestra debut at Severance Hall in 2005 and has since sung more than 45 concerts with the Pops, National Repertory Orchestra, Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, Wheaton Pops, Enid Symphony, Canton Symphony, Bemus Bay Pops, Tuscarawas Philharmonic, Lakeside Symphony, Ohio Valley Symphony, and others.
Joan’s one-woman theatre piece, All Happiness, Judy Garland, enjoyed a sold-out premiere at The Winter Park Playhouse (FL) in 2017, with reprises at the Holland Theatre and the Chagrin Falls Performing Arts Center. The show grew out of her NYC solo cabaret debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below, of which Cabaret Scenes Magazine wrote: “New York deserves to see and hear more of Joan Ellison.”
In addition to touring the country with shows she co-created, Love Finds Judy Garland and Gershwin On the Air, Joan has played classic leading-lady roles, 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”, and followed up in 2015 with “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.
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 Minnelli when she came to town. She currently serves as Teacher of Popular Voice at The Cleveland Institute of Music and 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