Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Monthly Muse: Ella Fitzgerald
By 1925, Fitzgerald and her family had moved to nearby School Street, then a predominantly poor Italian area. At the age of six, Fitzgerald began her formal education, and moved through a variety of schools before attending Benjamin Franklin Junior High School from 1929.
In her youth Ella wanted to become a dancer, she had been passionate about dancing from third grade, being a fan of Earl "Snakehips" Tucker in particular.
In 1932, Tempie died from serious injuries that she received in a car accident. Ella took the loss very hard. After staying with Joe for a short time, Tempie's sister Virginia took Ella home. Shortly afterward Joe suffered a heart attack and died, and her little sister Frances joined them.
When the authorities caught up with her, she was first placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale, Bronx. However, when the orphanage proved too crowded, she was moved to the New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York, a state reformatory. Eventually she escaped and for a time she was homeless.
Ella made her singing debut at 17 on November 21, 1934, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Ella attracted a crowd and won the opportunity to compete on one of their amateur nights. She had originally intended to go on stage and dance, but, intimidated by the Edwards Sisters, a local dance duo, she opted to sing instead in the style of Connee Boswell and won first prize of $25.
Fueled by enthusiastic supporters, Ella began entering - and winning - every talent show she could find. In January 1935 she won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. It was there that Ella first met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. Although her voice impressed him, Chick had already hired male singer Charlie Linton for the band. He offered Ella the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University.
In mid 1936, Ella made her first recording. "Love and Kisses" was released under the Decca label, with moderate success. By this time she was performing with Chick's band at the prestigious Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, often referred to as "The World's Most Famous Ballroom.". In 1938, at the age of 21, Ella recorded a playful version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." The album sold 1 million copies, hit number one, and stayed on the pop charts for 17 weeks. Suddenly, Ella Fitzgerald was famous.
On June 16, 1939, Ella mourned the loss of her mentor Chick Webb. In his absence the band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Band," and she took on the overwhelming task of bandleader. Ella recorded nearly 150 songs with the orchestra before it broke up in 1942, "the majority of them novelties and disposable pop fluff".
In 1942, Fitzgerald left the band to begin a solo career. Now signed to the Decca label, she had several popular hits while recording with such artists as Bill Kenny & The Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and The Delta Rhythm Boys.
With the demise of the Swing era and the decline of the great touring big bands, a major change in jazz music occurred. The advent of bebop led to new developments in Ella's vocal style, influenced by her work with Dizzy Gillespie's big band. It was in this period that Emma started including scat singing as a major part of her performance repertoire. While singing with Gillespie, Ella recalled, "I just tried to do [with my voice] what I heard the horns in the band doing.
While on tour with Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1946, Ella fell in love with bassist Ray Brown. The two were married and eventually adopted a son, whom they named Ray, Jr.
At the time, Ray was working for producer and manager Norman Granz on the "Jazz at the Philharmonic" tour. Norman saw that Ella had what it took to be an international star, and he convinced Ella to sign with him. It was the beginning of a lifelong business relationship and friendship.
Under Norman's management, Ella joined the Philharmonic tour, worked with Louis Armstrong on several albums and began producing her infamous songbook series. From 1956-1964, she recorded covers of other musicians' albums, including those by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart. The series was wildly popular, both with Ella's fans and the artists she covered.
"I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them," Ira Gershwin once remarked.
Ella also began appearing on television variety shows. She quickly became a favorite and frequent guest on numerous programs, including "The Bing Crosby Show," "The Dinah Shore Show," "The Frank Sinatra Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show," "The Nat King Cole Show," "The Andy Willams Show" and "The Dean Martin Show."
In 1985, Fitzgerald was hospitalized briefly for respiratory problems, in 1986 for congestive heart failure, and in 1990 for exhaustion. In 1993, she had to have both of her legs amputated below the knee due to the effects of diabetes. Her eyesight was affected as well.
By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums. In 1991, she gave her final concert at New York's renowned Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she performed there.
In 1996, tired of being in the hospital, she wished to spend her last days at home. Confined to a wheelchair, she spent her final days in her backyard of her Beverly Hills mansion on Whittier, with her son Ray and 12 year old granddaughter Alice. She died in her home on June 15, 1996 at the age of 79.
Ella Fitzgerald quotes:
♥ I stole everything I ever heard, but mostly I stole from the horns.
♥ It isn't where you came from, it's where you're going that counts.
♥ The only thing better than singing is more singing
♥ Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong.