Wilbert (Big Chief) Ellis, 62, a prominent blues songwriter and pianist who recently left Washington, died Tuesday after a heart attack in Birmingham, Ala.
Mr. Ellis had moved here from New York in 1972, working in a liquor store and living in an apartment in Southeast. He moved back to his native Alabama two months ago.
As a teen-ager growing up in Birmingham, he began making his living as a pianist, and then traveled around the country, writing songs and managing and performing in night clubs.
His signature songs, "Dices, O Dices," was recorded in New York. In the 1940s and 1950s, he wrote and recorded with two other prominent blues singers, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
Among the better known songs written by Mr. Ellis was "Drinking Wine and Spo-de-o-de," which was recorded in the 1940s with Sticks McGhee and revived by Jerry Lee Lewis.
Two years ago, Mr. Ellis recorded "The Gambler," an extended narrative ballad for a forthcoming Library of Congress anthology on folk music in America. Mr. Ellis also was filmed and recorded at the Smithsonian and at the Festival of American Folklife. He recently did an album called "Big Chief Ellis."
He is survived by his wife, Mattie, of Birmingham, two brothers and two sisters.