Local songbird flies solo

By: 
Jamie Hult, Staff writer
Amy Ellsworth performs with her former band, the Jukebox Zeroes. The Brandon musician now has a solo career performing throughout southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa. Nicole Priest Photography

Ellsworth goes stag after 14 years with Jukebox Zeroes 
 
 
 
If Amy Ellsworth can get a crowd to sing along, she’s done her job.
And the local singing sensation generally does. After nearly 30 years of performing pop songs live, Ellsworth – with her deep, soulful voice and masterful command 20th-century tunes – remains one of the busiest solo cover artists around. 
Ellsworth, who lives in Brandon, has been performing stag since the 2015 breakup of the Jukebox Zeroes, the cover band she started in 2001 with then-husband Jason Ellsworth. She first took the stage in 1996 with the disco tribute band the Glory Holes, and has done stints along the way with Sugar Daddy and, most recently, the Iowa-based dueling piano outfit Just Duet.
Though performing solo is still relatively new, Ellsworth believes she’s found her niche.  
“I do miss the rock band aspect of it,” she admitted. “But, thankfully, it’s been going wonderfully. I love it way more than I ever thought I would. I’m staying very busy. I’m so grateful.”
Ellsworth stays on top of a packed summer calendar; last week alone, she appeared at the Barrel House, Good Earth State Park and the Crash Boom Bang Whiskey Hole in Sioux City. 
Ellsworth’s go-to set list is, in a way, everybody’s: heavy on 1970s and 1980s hits, laced with plenty of today’s Top 40. 
“I kind of unintentionally bill my shows as songs everybody knows – the Eagles, Journey – and some newer stuff. I do some Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga. Pink. Adele, if my voice is feeling OK,” she said. “I definitely like music that tells a story. That’s one thing I think is missing in a lot of music today.”
If someone handed her a mic, she’d probably sing something by Heart – “Alone,” maybe, or “Barracuda.” 
“I just feel like I can do anything when I sing that song,” said Ellsworth, whose dramatic soprano has been likened to that of Heart’s lead singer, Ann Wilson.   
And if people know a song, Ellsworth probably does, too – and not just the lyrics. She’s a self-taught pianist with a natural musical aptitude, even for tunes she’s only heard once or twice. 
“My mom played by ear, and I guess by the grace of God and by her, I inherited that, too,” she said. 
While Ellsworth has penned several of her own tunes she’s proud of, she’s happy putting her own spin on beloved songs for crowds – even if that occasionally means she’s more like background noise (or what she likes to call “musical wallpaper”).  
“I have found in doing the solo thing that there’s just as much talent in performing a cover well than there is in performing your own music,” she mused. “Mostly, it’s about, ‘Are people going to know this song?’ ‘Can they sing along?’”
She typically sizes up the crowd when deciding what to play. For older audiences, for instance, she might mix in “Could I Have This Dance” by Anne Murray or “Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page.
But Ellsworth never lets her set get stale. She’s happy to take requests from the crowd, and a few have even worked their way into her main repertoire.  
“Somebody will ask for something, and I’ll try it. It ends up being a really cool, kind of stripped down version. I kind of put my own spin on it, but keep it recognizable,” she said. 
She’s recently added “I Can’t Make You Love Me” Bonnie Raitt to her set and “Come Sail Away” by Styx, though for the latter, she likes to remind the crowds she’s just one woman with one piano. 
Ellsworth initially began performing solo out of necessity – she needed a second income – but it’s never felt like work. She loves music too much.
“If I didn’t have my music, I would feel pretty incomplete,” she said. 
Locals can hear Ellsworth sing Sundays with the Brandon Lutheran Church praise band and 7:30-9 p.m. July 22 at Scooters, where she’ll put on one of four live shows on the coffee shop’s “after hours” summer docket. 

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