His anthem, with its “burn, baby, burn” refrain, went big in 1978 after featuring in film Saturday Night Fever and is still played at rugby league and basketball games.
Ellis can also be heard on other hits such as Hold Back The Night and That’s Where The Happy People Go.
Music journalist Ron Wynn said: “Ellis’s booming, joyous vocals brilliantly championed the celebratory fervour that made disco both loved and hated by music fans.”
Ellis was born in South Carolina in 1937 and started out as a gospel singer before moving to Philadelphia.
He was in R&B groups The Volcanoes and The Exceptions, known for the song Down by the Ocean.
Ellis toured with The Trammps until 2010.
He died at a nursing home in Rock Hill, North Carolina, on Thursday.
A service will be held in nearby Charlotte.