“Little Martha” Ellis – remembered in stone and song

Martha Ellis Memorial

Martha Ellis Memorial

Martha Ellis was only 12-years old when she died in 1896.  Her parents obviously loved and sorely missed her as they erected this marker at her grave.  Little Martha is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia.

The cemetery was laid out in the 1880s with the idea that it would be a resting place for the dead, and also  a gathering place for the living people of Macon.  But by the late 1960s, Rose Hill was no longer an active cemetery and was ignored by the adults of the community.  The solitude there, however, made it a gathering place for young people.

Among those young folks were the members of the newly formed Allman Brothers Band.  Dickey Betts has mentioned numerous times that he found quiet spots in the cemetery to write songs.

The Martha Ellis memorial must have made an impression on Duane Allman.  The only Allman Brothers track written solely by him is named “Little Martha” and the name, at least, was inspired by her. The track is included on the “Eat A Peach” album recorded only a few weeks before Duane died in 1971.

The title was inspired by Martha Ellis, but Duane said he wrote the song about his then girlfriend, Dixie Lee Meadows.  He says the melody came to him in a dream in which Jimi Hendrix showed him the melody in a motel room bathroom. Hendrix demonstrated using the sink faucet as a guitar fretboard.

Allman remembered the melody during the Eat A Peach session, and he played it accompanied only by Dickey Betts on guitar and Berry Oakley on bass.  When the song was originally mixed, Oakley’s part was removed, leaving only a guitar duet.

The song has been covered numerous times by various artists including Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Leo Kottke, Tim Farrell and Jerry Douglas.  The band released the original recorded mix, including Oakley’s bass,  on the 1989 boxed set Dreams.

Martha Ellis gravesite at Rose Hill Cemetery

Martha Ellis gravesite at Rose Hill Cemetery

4 Responses to “ “Little Martha” Ellis – remembered in stone and song ”

  1. Wow, it is amazing to me to look at a headstone with my name on it! Very interesting stuff indeed!!

  2. why do you say she died in 1896 when the marker reads 1836? I am not being a smart ass but just sense a discrepancy somwhere as a marker that nice would have been very rare in the 1830’s. what is going on?

  3. Little Martha did die in 1836 and this is the headstone that was placed there soon after. Martha must have had fairly wealthy parents as it was very expensive in those days. It is fabulous to see it for real. And whomever posted this is correct in that Duane wrote the song about Dixie but the name of the song was inspired by Martha. I am Macon alumni c 1968 to Jan 1973 and am very familiar with this place, and all ABB stuff…

  4. Makes you wonder about the inscription where part of it reads “brothers and sisters”. …

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