While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Elsa Gonzalez

ELLIS, MERRILL (1916–1981). Composer, performer, and researcher Merrill Ellis was born in Cleburne, Texas, on December 9, 1916. He studied clarinet as a child and received bachelor of arts and master of music degrees from the University of Oklahoma. He later taught at the University of Missouri. Ellis appeared throughout the central and southwestern United States in numerous performances of electronic and intermedia compositions, and he lectured at different colleges and universities. He was interested in the advancement of new music and carried out research in new compositional techniques, development of new instruments, and exploration of new notation techniques for scoring and performance.

He began exploring electro-acoustic music when he arrived at North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) at Denton in 1962. He founded the university's Computer Music Center in 1963 and was a professor of composition. That same year he established and was director of the Electronic Music Center, the precursor to the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia. He intended the center to be an important part of the Division of Composition, where professors and students could employ experimental technologies to produce art.

During the center's first ten years, participating composers centered their work on the prominent electronic music forms of the time––magnetic tape and live performances using analog synthesizers. Ellis induced Robert Moog, who invented the synthesizer, to make a second one for him and his students. Between 1973 and 1983 these composers also integrated elements from other artistic disciplines, such as theater, painting, and dance, to create intermedia compositions.

Some of his instrumental works listed by ASCAP include Kaleidoscope (for mezzo-soprano, electronic synthesizer, and orchestra), A Dream Fantasy (tape, clarinet, percussion, 16mm film, and slides), Nostalgia (orchestra, film, and theatrical events), Mutations (brass choir, film tape, and slides), Scintillation (solo piano), Celebration (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, percussion, tape, lasers, and "visual events"), and Dream of the Rode (tape and 16 mm film). ASCAP also lists among his scores the opera The Sorcerer (solo baritone, tape, film, slides, and chorus) and the television film The Choice is Ours (intermedia work for two films, slides, tape, and audience participation). Ellis was a member of many professional organizations, including the Music Teachers National Association. He received several commissions and research grants and won an ASCAP award in 1979.

Ellis died in Denton on July 21, 1981, after a short illness. His body was cremated at the Roselawn Cemetery in Denton. Instead of funeral services, a concert was held in his honor at the UNT Intermedia School of Music. Ellis bequeathed a fund to commission yearly student concerts of new music, which took place five successive years after his death. He was survived by his wife, Naomi, three sons, and two daughters, as well as nine grandchildren. In 1981, when Phil Winsor joined the North Texas faculty, the Electronic Music Center became the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia. The Merrill Ellis Memorial Composition Scholarship was established in his honor.


ASCAP Biographical Dictionary (New York: T. Y. Crowell, [1948]; 4th ed., New York: Bowker, 1980). Dallas Morning News, July 22, 1981. Merrill Ellis, Special Collections, University of North Texas, Denton.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Elsa Gonzalez, "ELLIS, MERRILL," accessed May 24, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fel37.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on October 26, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...