Growing up, Ellen Doty did not believe her passion for singing would lead to a career. However, the acclaimed vocalist and songwriter has now released two albums and is signed to record labels in Canada and Japan.
Doty and her three siblings were raised on an acreage south of Calgary and were regularly involved in music. She began singing in church, and at the age of five she performed in the Calgary Stampede Youth Show.
Doty continued to perform but never saw herself making a career of it.
“It was always something that I loved, but in terms of actually pursuing it as a career, I feel like that didn’t really happen until my early twenties,” says Doty, who is now 32.
After high school, Doty attended the Carleton University in Ottawa to study vocal jazz but had to move back to Calgary after she injured herself while playing on the basketball team. During this time she transferred to the University of Calgary to study geology while minoring in music.
“It made sense to be able to do that [hip surgery] from home. But then I also felt like I needed a backup plan to doing music,” says Doty.
University was valuable to her in creating a network of musicians, but she doesn’t believe having a backup plan was completely necessary.
“It’s not easy being an artist and it takes a lot of hard work to get to the point where you can use it as a way to support yourself. But I think that anyone who wants to do it can.”
When Doty began pursuing music professionally, she didn’t think it would involve releasing an album of her own. However, her younger sister, Sarah Doty, always believed in her and her music.
“My guess is that she didn’t always think of herself as an original artist, but she did as a performer and as someone who’s really talented vocally,” says Sarah.
It was because of a few fans in Calgary who offered to fund Doty’s first recording project that she gained more confidence in herself as an artist.
“I was writing music, but hadn’t pursued actually recording my own album yet. That really gave me a push to believe, ‘Oh yeah, I can do this,’” says Doty.
Following the release of her 2014 album, Gold, Doty used the connections she had and booked herself a 50-show tour across Canada.
During this time, Doty met with the music label Alma Records, who signed her when she was ready to begin her next project.
Her 2018 album Come Fall, debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes jazz chart.
“Come Fall is where she really came into her own as an artist,” says Sarah. “Watching her grow, she went from focusing on more traditional jazz covers to really finding her own sound and her own style.”
Davide Direnzo, one of Doty’s producers who worked on Come Fall, says the album is a success because of how genuine Doty and the music is.
“There is a real vibe about that record that we spent a lot of time getting to know, and essentially become comfortable with. As we were going through the process it all clicked. We were totally devoted and committed to that sound,” says Direnzo.
After Come Fall, Doty continued to tour. She travelled to Japan twice and even had a showcase at the Tokyo Jazz Festival. It was there she was approached by the Japanese music label, Inpartmaint, who she is now signed with.
“Japan has a really strong product market, which is unique in the music world,” says Doty. “They sell vinyl, CDs and that kind of stuff. It’s been really cool to get notes from fans in Japan and know that people are listening around the world.”
Lately, Doty has been enjoying her new home in Edmonton with her fiancé Murray Wood. Although she has been writing music for a third album, she says its release will depend on when she is able to tour again.
Direnzo is prepared to work on another record with Doty and expects it to be as genuine as her past work.
“When you commit to something like that [recording an album], you are committing to a different level of a relationship with somebody. You really get intimate with that person, in regard to the writing process. You are delving into some serious depth,” says Direnzo.
For Doty, being a musician is rewarding in many ways, but her favourite part is being on a stage.
“There’s something really special about sharing music with people and seeing their reactions, talking to them afterwards, and knowing how it impacts people just to hear music and listen to lyrics,” says Doty. “It’s a pretty special connection you form with an audience when you perform for them.”
Sarah has been to many of her sister’s shows, but always finds it special to watch others listen to Doty for the first time.
“I tell people that she’s an incredible singer, and I know that they believe me. But when they see it in person, people are always in awe of her voice,” says Sarah. “She’s one of these things where her live music is always as good, if not better, than her recorded version.”
The first time Direnzo heard Doty sing, he was moved.
“When I heard her sing, I was like ‘Man, you’ve got a beautiful voice. You’ve got a real thing.’ Somethings going on there that is very alluring and beautiful,” Direnzo says. “She’s sincere, vulnerable and a genuine soul. To have the honour to work with somebody like that, that possesses that trait, it’s pretty special.”
Although Doty has not been able perform with an in-person audience recently due to the pandemic, she has participated in numerous online performances since April.
“One really cool thing about it is that you connect with people from all over the world with just one performance,” says Doty.
She looks forward to being on a stage again, connecting with her fans, and releasing new music.
“I feel like I’m very open and vulnerable on stage. I like to talk about my life and things that have happened to me. It encourages people to do the same. You know, after a show they tell me about something that’s happened in their life, that might be similar to what I’ve been through. I think we kind of all have those shared connections in a lot of ways.”