Women You Wanna Know: Ella Fitzgerald
Generations come and go, but hopefully we haven’t forgotten Ella Fitzgerald. What we often have left of our ancestors are memories to remind us of those who touched us. And sometimes people leave tangible evidence that they were here, allowing the masses to review the artifacts and let their mind drift to a time before we knew what greatness was. I never learned about Ella Fitzgerald in school. Well, at least i don’t remember. I’m sure she could have been a part of music education and perhaps I was just too much of a dolt to understand how truly impactful she was. I was too busy worrying about things that would never matter. Now that i’m older, i’m realizing the importance of knowing and understanding our pasts. Not only does it help prevent future mistakes, but it reminds you that so many of our world changing women came from humble beginngings. These women faced tons of adversity and instead of giving up, continued to press on.
Ella Fitzgerald was affectionately known as the “First Lady of Song”. An appropriate title seeing as though she made a huge contribution to the genre in popularizing 'Scat.' If you were to search the internet for what 'Scatting' means, you may get grossed out. So, let me just share with you that 'Scat' is melodic sounds that are sang, like Do, Dee, Wee, Doo. Maybe not like that per se, but it's a sound that has no meaning but some how still magical to hear.
She tried this on a song with Dizzy Gillespie as she wanted to imitate the sound that she heard. It could have gone way left, but Ms. Fitzgerald’s ability to try something new on the spot made her legendary.
Fearless is something Ella learned from early on. She never knew her father and after her mother died, she lived with her aunt in Harlem, the birthplace of many musical and creative influences. She won one of the earliest “Amatuer nights” at the famous Apollo Theater which resulted in a $25 award. As her name gained momentum she met Chick Webb and began performing with his orchestra. She later performed a song that would catapult her into notoriety; A Tisket, A Tasket. As the people's taste of music began to change from Big Band to Jazz, Ella continued her journey as a solo artist. She collaborated with partners such as Smokey Robinson, Norman Grantz, and my favorite Duke Ellington.
Ella and Duke had a special musical relationship. Both from similar areas, Duke's smooth style and Ella's perfect pitch created a magical union. Ella loved Duke’s work so much, that she decided to release an album as a tribute. One of her most critically acclaimed works was Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book. She garnered the respect of so many, including performing for President Reagan in the early 80’s. Ella had a history of Diabetes which would eventually result in amputation of both her legs. She spent her last days in her Beverly Hills home and passed away on June 15th, 1996.
The multi-Grammy award winner is gone but her legacy is still around. Though you may not see references of her on billboards. You many not hear her name mentioned in everyday conversation. However, maybe someone out there is reading this and will dare to listen to her musical contribution. Maybe someone will create newer, better music based off the foundation she laid. Or, perhaps someone will read and just thank her for sharing the music that was in her soul.
For Further Reading: