Hortense was just 18 years old when she appeared on The Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, which was then Jamaica's foremost outlet for undiscovered young talent. Her version of Frankie Lymon's "I'm Not Saying No At All" went down so well with the audience and the panel that she was invited back the following week.
Hortense went on to enter many other competitions and showcases managing to reach six semi-finals and four finals. In 1964 she was awarded a silver cup as Jamaica's Best Female Vocalist - a feat she was to repeat five years later.
By the late sixties, Hortense had extensive experience both in live performance and in the studio. She had toured Jamaica with Byron Lee And The Dragonaires and had begun recording with some of the island's top producers. Among these were Ken Lack, Arthur "Duke" Reid and Clement "Coxsone" Dodd.
Alton Ellis was also recording with Dodd at this time and the family connection was cleverly exploited as Dodd produced "female" adaptions of several of Alton's hits for Hortense to record. The ever-resourceful Dodd also paired Alton and Hortense on a run of classic duets.
The siblings toured Canada in 1970 but by the following year Hortense was back in Jamaica. She married Mikey "Junior" Saunders with whom she had five children in quick succession. Although her live performances suffered as a result, Hortense remained busy in the studio. Recording under the name Mahalia Saunders for producer Lee Perry she cut several sides including "Right On The Tip Of My Tongue" and "Piece Of My Heart".
Hortense's biggest commercial success came in the late seventies with a song cut for Augustus "Gussie" Clarke. "Unexpected Places" was a big hit in Jamaica and was released in Britain on the Hawkeye label.
For producer Bunny Lee, Hortense became Queen Tiney for her "Down Town Ting" - an answer record to the Althea & Donna hit "Uptown Top Ranking" which had itself been based on the rhythm of Alton Ellis's "I'm Still in Love With You".
Around this time, Hortense recut many of her Studio One sides with The Soul Syndicate, The Aggrovators and the up and coming team of Sly & Robbie.
The rise of the Lovers Rock genre in the late seventies and early eighties resulted in Hortense cutting cover versions of several soul classics including "Down The Aisle" (Patti LaBelle) and "Young Hearts Run Free" (Candi Staton).
Following her divorce from Mikey Saunders, Hortense spent much of the eighties in Miami and New York. On returning to Jamaica in 1989, she began suffering severe health problems; but managed to carry on with occasional live local performances - something she loved immensely.
She recovered sufficiently to make a private visit to New York in the summer of 1999 and then to Miami the following year where illness finally caught up with her.
Hortense Ellis, known by so many in Jamaica and all over the world as "Jamaica's First Lady Of Song", passed away in her sleep in a Kingston hospital on October 18th 2000