Born into a Pentecostal-Holiness family in rural Puckett’s Gap, Virginia, Claude Ely was to become a legend as a traveling evangelist as well as a recording artist. He lived through a near fatal bout with tuberculosis at the age of twelve which gave him time to learn and practice the guitar and other musical instruments. It was during this traumatic period of his life that he learned “There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down”, a gospel song from African-American tradition that was to become his signature song. It is still dearly loved by the people in eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia where Ely ministered in his career as a traveling preacher.

At the age of 18 in 1940 Claude enlisted in the Army where he stayed until 1945. Upon his discharge, he did what most boys in that area did in those years— went to work in the coal mines. A near death experience was to change his life forever. A mine wall collapsed on him and his miraculous rescue caused him to leave the mines and become a minister.

For the next twenty some years he pastored churches, conducted revivals, and made guest appearances at little mountain churches across the three- state area. He preached, he sang, he shouted, he moved all around the stage or pulpit getting in the spirit. It’s been said that his style influenced a young Elvis Presley.

King Records owner Syd Nathan felt that Brother Claude’s music was a combination of hillbilly and rhythm and blues, much the same as Sam Phillips felt about Elvis a few years later. King recorded one of Claude’s church services at Cumberland, Kentucky in 1953 and a revival at the courthouse in Letcher County, Kentucky in 1954. From these recordings, King issued five singles in 1954 which included “There’s a Leak In This Old Building”, There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down”, and “Holy, Holy, Holy (That’s All Right).” This led to more recordings on King in 1962 and 1968 that included two LPs, one EP, and four more singles. In 1969 he recorded an LP on Jewel Records at Rusty York’s studio in the Cincinnati suburb of Mount Healthy. His backing band read like a Who’s Who of Cincinnati sidemen; Dumpy Rice on piano, gospel artist J.D. Jarvis on tambourine, Ray Wilson on steel guitar, rockabilly legend Orangie Ray Hubbard on bass, Reverend Harley Hensley on rhythm guitar, and Dennis Hensley and Phil Miles on lead guitars. In 1974 and 1979, Brother Claude recorded two more LPs at Dennis Hensley’s Jordan Studio in Covington, Kentucky. In 1993, Ace Records in the UK issued a retrospective titled Satan Get Back.

Brother Claude Ely’s final ministry from 1965 to 1978 was at the Charity Tabernacle in Newport, Kentucky across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. It was there that he passed away from a heart attack while singing “Where Could I Go But to the Lord” at a Charity Tabernacle service on May 7, 1978.

In 2010, Dust To Digital in Atlanta, Georgia published his biography Ain’t No Grave, The Life and Legacy of Brother Claude Ely written by Claude’s great-nephew Macel Ely II, Ph.D. In September of 2016 Reference Librarian Brian Powers hosted a presentation by Dr. Ely at the Cincinnati Main Library as part of King Records month.

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