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Trammps Frontman Jimmy Ellis of "Disco Inferno" Fame Dies

Jimmy Ellis AP Photo/The Herald

His life burned as brightly as the "inferno" he and his bandmates left on the dance floor.

Jimmy Ellis, lead singer for the Trammps—the Philadelphia band that helped fuel the disco revolution with their classic anthem "Disco Inferno"—died Thursday in a South Carolina nursing home. He was 74.

Ellis' daughter, Erika Stinson, told the New York Times the cause of death was complications of Alzheimer's disease.

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Led by Ellis' booming baritone, the Trammps had their first chart success with 1972's cover version of Judy Garland's "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," but it wasn't until the release of the 1973 single "Love Epidemic" that they became identified with the new dance craze erupting out of New York and Philadelphia clubs.

Born in Rock Hill, S.C., on Nov. 15, 1937, Ellis grew up singing gospel at church before striking out for the City of Brotherly Love where he jumped headlong into the burgeoning soul-R&B scene Philadelphia  became known for.

In the late '60s, he formed the Volcanos, which later morphed into the Moods before undergoing several lineup changes to finally solidify into the Trammps.

The outfit caught the disco wave of the mid-'70s but didn't become a household name until dropping what turned out to be their most memorable dance hit, 1976's "Disco Inferno," with its funky festive sound and catchy chorus of "burn, baby, burn."

The song reached No. 11 on the Billboard pop chart and proved so popular it was included in 1977's Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which nabbed them a Grammy Award and had the notoriety of being the best-selling album of all time until a little record called Thriller by Michael Jackson bumped it from its perch.

The Trammps remained active until 1980, after which the members went their separate ways, though Ellis continued to tour with a version of the band on the nostalgia circuit.

The original members briefly reunited, however, in 2005 when "Disco Inferno" had the honor of being inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York.

A memorial service for Ellis is set for March 16 at the Central Church of God in Charlotte, N.C.

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