It’s hard to imagine that a song could have a better friend than Ella Fitzgerald! Ella – who died in 1996 – would have celebrated her 94th birthday on Monday, April 25th.
Ella, an American jazz singer, is known as the “First Lady (the leading woman in an art or profession) of Song.” She had a remarkable (impressive) career that “spanned (extended across a period of time) 59 years, garnered (collected) 15 Grammys (an important award for musicians) and forever changed the face of (sound or appearance of) jazz,” according to the Brain Pickings website.
Many believe that Ella had the best voice in the history of jazz or, perhaps, any kind of music. And they believe that her ability to interpret (perform in a way to show feeling and meaning) many different kinds of songs is without peer. In other words, no other singer has had the same ability she had. She’s certainly one of the foremost (best or most important) interpreters of the Great American Songbook – the best and most important American songs from the 20th century, especially from the 1920s to 1960. These are songs that will probably remain (continue to be) popular and be performed by jazz musicians for many years. Sometimes these songs are called “jazz standards.” She received the National Medal of Art from President Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the first President Bush.
Ella was born in 1917 and began her singing career in 1934, when she was 17 years old. She sang with Duke Ellington, Count Basie and most of the other important bands (groups of instrumental musicians), but she may be best known for her frequent performances with Louis Armstrong, one of the greatest male jazz singers and trumpet players and my childhood hero (someone you admire). There always seemed to be a little special magic in the air when they performed together.
Ella is also considered (thought) to be one of the greatest scat singers in jazz history. Scat singing is when the singer uses the sound of his or her voice like an instrument, without words. Scat singing is almost always improvised. Improvised music isn’t written; it’s created, or made up, while performing.
Ready to party with Ella? I’ve found several great examples of her music, some of them rare (not often seen or heard):
- One Note Samba – a great example of scat singing from 1969. When she introduces the song, she calls it impromptu, which means not practiced or planned.
- Dream a Little Dream of Me – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. This recording, the best I could find online, includes a humorous animation (like a cartoon) in which a bird and a cat act out the lyrics (words) of the song. Great music! Funny animation!
- First Lady of Song is a series of short podcasts about Ella Fitzgerald. You’ll hear her sing and listen to modern jazz musicians talk about and perform some of her music.
- Sound to Grow On is a series of American music programs from the Smithsonian Institution on iTunes U. They are hosted (introduced) by Michael Ash. Ash’s father Moses recorded many popular musicians from 1948 until 1986. The program called Jazz is one hour long, and you’ll find a song by Ella – from 1939 – at 37:45 (37 minutes, 45 seconds) into (from the beginning of) the program. I hope you listen to the whole program. You’ll learn a lot about American jazz. It’s especially interesting to me to hear the musicians discuss how they plan to perform some of the songs you’ll hear.
I hope you enjoy Ella as much as I do. I celebrated her birthday on Monday by listening to her music all day while I worked; I loved every minute of it!
Photo of young Ella from the Wikipedia Commons is in the public domain.