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The Washington Post (US)
Thursday, December 18, 1980
Maryland Weekly section, page 2
At 17, Student Sings a Song of Success
by Kathryn Tolbert - Washington Post Staff Writer
Scene one: The Capital Hilton bar. Dim lights, ice clinking in glasses, laughter a little too loud. To one side of the room, at the piano, a woman leans into the microphone and sings, "Some say love, it isn't easy..."
Scene two: The living room of a two-story brick house on a winding suburban street. The same young woman, a high school senior, is perched at one end of the sofa. "I want to be a legend," she says unabashedly.
Another star-struck teenager with an ear for music and dreams of the pop charts? Perhaps. Or then again, Ellen Amos may one day be the hit recording artist she is determined to be.
And if legends are born in places like Eastern Junior High School in Silver Spring or Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, she is well on her way.
There they know Ellen for her renditions of the pop hits as well as for her own songs and for her love of singing and playing for an audience.
"I was a star at Eastern, but I tell you, that doesn't get you on the radio," she says realistically.
Her senior class elected her homecoming queen, but already her sights are set beyond high school, which she calls a "hobby that sometimes gets in the way."
"One of the reasons I'm an entertainer is because my father's a minister," she explained. "I meet so many people and get so much attention."
The Rev. Dr. Edison Amos of the Rockville United Methodist Church wholeheartedly supports his daughter's ambitions. For a year, he and his wife Mary Ellen spent every Friday night in the restaurant-bar called Mr. Smith's in Georgetown while Ellen, then 14, sang.
"Most of us who grew up during the World War II years want our kids to go to college," said Rev. Amos. "But I've found in counseling parents that some parents have a psychological mindset that works to the detriment and sometimes the devastation of youngsters. I've come to realize that for her, we have to change for her if she's going to become a national recording artist."
"My concern is to get her into entertainment without her entering a lifestyle that is self-destructive," he said.
Amos, who has played the piano since the age of 3 and read music before she could read words, cut her first single this fall, "Walking with You" on one side and "Baltimore" on the other. She wrote "Baltimore" in honor of the Baltimore Orioles, hoping they would win the American League's eastern division title. Baltimore mayor William D. Schaefer gave her a citation of merit last month for the song.
She took music lessons at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore when she was in elementary school, and has been studying voice and music at Montgomery College for the past five years.
Sometimes she feels obligated to justify her love for popular music: "What's good singing? You're just appealing to people's likes and dislikes. Who's to criticize? What they like sometimes is what they hear the most."
Songs by the Beatles, James Taylor and Julie Andrews are high in her repertoire that includes most of the popular tunes since the 1940s. Since singing at Mr. Smith's, Ellen has performed at dozens of parties, clubs, schools, colleges and even basketball games. In November, the Capital Hilton signed her for a month, and she'll be back there next year.
For a 17-year-old raised in a minister's well-disciplined home, where is the common ground with the lifestyle and experiences that rock stars sing about?
"I think I'm perceptive. You don't always have to go through things to feel them," she said. "Being a minister's daughter, I could tell the moods of people my father counseled. I've been through a lot because so many people I know have been through a lot."
Caption: Ellen Amos singing and playing at the Capital Hilton bar.
Photo by James A. Parcell - The Washington Post
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