The Ealey family of Sibley has produced some of the most talented musicians to emerge from the Natchez area. Brothers Theodis, YZ, and Melwyn Ealey performed together locally in the band YZ Ealey and the Merry Makers in the early 1960s. They later became recording artists, as did their older brother, David (“Bubba”) Ealey. Theodis developed a captivating blend of traditional blues and modern funk and soul music to achieve national prominence after leaving Mississippi.
Theodis Ealey gained national recognition in 2004 when his song “Stand Up In It” became a radio hit and reached No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Sales chart. Although the song introduced Ealey (b. 1947) to many blues fans, he had at the time already played music professionally for over forty years. Born at the family farm in Sibley, fifteen miles south of Natchez, Theodis began playing bass at thirteen with YZ and the Merry Makers, which included his older brothers YZ (b. 1937) on guitar and Melwin (also spelled Melwyn) (1942-2005), on vocals and drums. YZ was mentored by his older brother David (“Bubba”) (b. 1927), who began playing guitar locally in his teens and soon moved to New Orleans, where he played at house parties in a style similar to Lightnin’ Hopkins and Little Son Jackson together with a young Guitar Slim. He lived for many years in Oakland and later retired to Port Hudson, Louisiana, all the time continuing to perform informally.
YZ received his first guitar from Bubba and began performing at local juke joints with Melwin as a teenager. After a stint in the Navy, YZ settled in Oakland, where he performed with L. C. “Good Rockin’” Robinson, Big Mama Thornton, and others. After several years he returned to Natchez, where he formed the Merry Makers with his younger brothers and local musicians including Tobe Smith, Jonathan Grennell, and A. J. Reed. For several years they served as the house band at Haney’s Big House in nearby Ferriday, the most important club in the region from the late ‘40s until mid-‘60s. YZ continued to work locally for decades, later employing the band of Harvey Knox, born in Tallulah, and vocalist Al Watson, a native of Vidalia.
In 1963 Melwin moved to Oakland, where he performed as a vocalist at local venues for decades, singing rhythm and blues, country, and ballads. In Natchez Theodis worked locally as a guitarist with Eugene Butler and the Rocking Royals, whose members included Zollie Polk, later active as a harmonica player in the Los Angeles area. In the mid-‘60s Theodis joined the military, forming his first band while stationed in Hawaii. In 1970 he moved to Oakland and cut his first singles in the mid-‘70s. He formed the IFGAM label in 1981, recording singles by both himself and Melwin. In the early ‘90s Theodis relocated to the Atlanta area, recorded four albums for the Ichiban label, and began touring abroad. He later reactivated IFGAM, releasing several albums including Stand Up In It and CDs by Bubba (Simply Paw Paw), YZ (Ground Zero), and other artists. IFGAM is an acronym for “I Feel Good About Myself.”
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