Thursday, January 11, 2007

First Lady of Song


Ella Fitzgerald, my favorite singer of all time in any genre, winner of 13 Grammys, the Kennedy Center Award, an honorary doctorate in music from Yale University, The National Medal of Art from President Ronald Reagan, and The Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush, has just been honored with a postage stamp.

Her singing style can best be described as effortless. She was a vocal marvel, blessed with perfect pitch and clarity of tone, a 3-octave range, incredible taste, and a talent for improvisation. During her fifty-seven year recording career, she sang with big bands, duos, trios, and symphony orchestras in a variety of styles ranging from the standards of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hart, to scat, (harmonic variations of the melody in nonsense syllables,) and was also a proficient pop singer.

There was nothing she couldn't do, superbly. Ella Fitzgerald was also a magnificently humble woman whose ego never got in the way of presenting a song to its best advantage. Unlike other jazz greats like Billie Holiday (my other favorite,) she had a personal life unmarred by drug abuse or scandal of any kind.

When I think of a person who accomplished what she was meant to do in life, Ella Fitzgerald comes to mind first. But the cost was high. Ironically, as she sang of perfect romance and provided the backdrop for numberless other peoples' romances, she never experienced it herself.

Her first marriage, to a drug dealer, was annulled a short time later. Her second, to legendary bassist Ray Brown, lasted four years, during which time the couple adopted a baby boy born to her sister, Frances. They named him Ray Brown, Jr.

I can't remember how many times I fell in love to Ella's music. It was impossible not to love whoever I was with when she was singing. Eventually, I learned to distinguish my love for her and her incredible voice from the lucky shooters across the romantic little tables from me.

Born in 1918, she died of diabetes in 1996 at the age of 78. In doing her life's work so gloriously, she enhanced the lives of millions of others. We should all be so blessed.

A few days after her death, The New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote that in the songbook series, Fitzgerald "performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis's contemporaneous integration of white and African-American soul. Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians."

And that's why the lady has a stamp.

R.I.P., Ella. You will be loved forever.

45 comments:

furiousBall said...

One of the greatest voices ever, I don't care what genre people want to talk about - there hasn't been as emotive a voice ever.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Furiousball,

Truly. She was a rare treasure with the voice of an angel.

Liz said...

I love those photos of her and she is truly deserving of the stamp. She sang her heart out without putting any personal drama out on a national stage.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Liz,

I love her. LOVE her. Did I mention that I love her?

I loved those pictures, too: Young Ella, glamorous Ella, and finally, warm, charming, adorable older Ella, looking totally comfortable with herself and the world.

Lee said...

Great post! Amazing lady!

The Law Fairy said...

Ella's one of my favorites too. You cannot listen to her and not FEEL something. It's physically impossible.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Lee,

She WAS an amazing lady. And in her case, I use "lady" in the true sense of the word.

Law Fairy,

Only an emotional illiterate could fail to be moved by her singing.

Pickled Olives said...

Beautiful tribute. I love her songs. I even downloaded a couple into the kids ipods.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Olives,

She was a beautiful soul.

And I heartily approve of your choice in music for your kids. Raise 'em right and they'll never go wrong.

swampwitch said...

Oh-h-h-h-h! I'm headed to iTunes to add a new category just for her.
Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.
Can't write anymore...have to go find my iPod.

Stephen said...

I had the great honor and pleasure of meeting Ella many years ago when she did a week's worth of shows at the theater I worked as a stage hand. The bill was Ella, Count Basie and Oscar Peterson. They were all magnificent.

mist1 said...

I love her too.

I hope to get a stamp one day. I like it when people lick me.

mist1 said...

That was inappropriate, wasn't it?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Swampwitch,

Glad I could help.

Stephen,

Wish I'd been there. I saw (and HEARD) them all perform, too, but never together.

Mist,

Not for you.

Oh, The Joys said...

"I'm beginning to see the light!"

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Joys,

"Easy To Love."

Le Nightowl said...

.... "And that's why the lady has a stamp."
I like that :)
Wonderful tribute, with a superb choice of pictures.
I can't say I'm that familiar with her art, but your post made me want to discover more.
Marie

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Marie,

You won't be sorry.

Is Edith Piaf's music still popular in France? I've always loved her, too.

Christina_the_wench said...

She just rocks. And she was beautiful too. Glad to see the honor she deserves if only on a stamp.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I guess everyone's already said it. But I am also a bug fan. When I think of Ella and her singing, the following words come to mind, "A Lady", "Class Act" and "Queen of Jazz". The incomparable Ella.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Ummm. I meant "big" fan not "bug" fan. I am also a bug fan but that's a totally different story.

djn said...

I love your description of falling in love to Ella's music. That's classic. You're not the only one, that's for sure. :)

Oh, and mist1 --- LOL!

Dave said...

Ella Fitzgerald was a favorite singer of a family member of mine as well. She used to have a number of recording that she would often play. Thanks for the memories!

Pendullum said...

I was blessed to have heard her sing inperson two times in the early eighties. It was during that Live or Memorex time and boy could she hit the notes... and make you feel something special...

Odat said...

Amen!

jali said...

She's my favorite of all time too! Beautiful tribute. Thank you.

Jennifer said...

My father told my mother once, very early in their marriage, that he loved her deeply, but need her to know something. That something? "If Ella Fitzgerald ever knocks on the door and asks me to leave with her, I am afraid I'll have no choice but to go."

It's been part of family lore ever since.

The woman was a gift.

Le Nightowl said...

I guess Edith Piaf is still appreciated by people nostalgic of a bygone musical era :)

Dan said...

I got goosebumps reading your wonderful tribute to Ella. I also LOVE Ella. Effortless for sure. No doubt about it. What an amazing career!

Thanks for paying tribute to it.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Christina,

Maybe a nice statue in the National Gallery of Art, or her profile carved into Mt. Rushmore to give the place some class. Let's start a groundswell.

Squirrel,

She WAS a class act, though I'm not sure what that has to do with your predilection for entomology.

Squirrel again,

Ohhhh. BIG. That changes everything. Never mind.

Djn,

Guilty as charged. She put everyone in the mood for love.

And oh, yeah - Mist. We already touched her and the mother won't take her back.

Dave,

Your relative has great taste.

Pendullum,

She was The Best.

Odat,

!!!

Jali,

You and I have several favorite artists in common. It's hard to imagine anyone not loving Ella - or Marvin.

Jennifer,

What a great story! How wonderfully special having her for an almost-stepmother.

She was like a billboard proclaiming that life is good, even when it wasn't.

Marie,

Piaf was great!! I tried absinthe to her music in Montmartre, but didn't fall in love with it.

Dan,

Ella will live forever, as long as there are those who appreciate beauty, elegance, and purity of spirit and expression.

velvet girl said...

Ella was one of the most gifted vocalists since the beginning of recorded music. She will always be a legend.

The only thing that surprises me is that a stamp in her honor hadn't been issued before now.

-velvet

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Velvet,

I had the same thought. I guess the mills of the goddesses grind but slowly.

urban-urchin said...

She was amazing. And yes, humble. She was homeless for a while before she found fame, and was so grateful to be working. Apparently she was like Frank Sinatra in that she could record the song in one take.

Her voice makes me happy, thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful little love letter. Thank you.

(Crankster)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Urchin.

She was one of those shining spirits who didn't let painful circumstances defeat her. We could all learn from her example.

Crankster,

I guess it was a love letter. You're welcome.

An explosive said...

One of the Greatest! I love her concert piece they show with Frank Sinatra. What melody. ~M

heartinsanfrancisco said...

My heart,

One of my favorite albums of all time is "Ella and Louie." I also have all her songbooks and several other albums she recorded. Amazingly, they are as exciting now as they were when she did them.

Le Nightowl said...

Me again :)
I found a video of the French artist France Gall singing "Ella elle l'a", a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.
I thought you might enjoy it :)
Marie

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Marie,

Thank you so much! i will check it out as soon as I make coffee.

Ella was, indeed, "it."

Le Nightowl said...

On second thoughts, I posted the video on my blog, I really love it :)

Michael C said...

She is a delight to listen to! I recently found a copy of her and Bing Crosby singing a duet of 'Rudoplh the Red Nosed Reindeer' of all things. She was so freakin cool on it that it's hard to put to words. That will definitely be a stamp that adorns my mail for some time to come!

What a great, great tribute you wrote!

Josie said...

What a wonderful tribute! I saw Ella Fitzgerald in person once, with Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass. It was a fantastic evening. Ella had a voice like a little girl, and she was lovely.

Josie

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Marie,

It's wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing it.

Michael,

Ella sings Rudolph. Now that is not to be missed.

Thank you for the nice compliment, but I didn't realize I was writing a tribute. I was just writing about someone I have always loved and admired, but because of who that was, it naturally became a tribute.

Josie,

She was lovely and elegant and totally unpretentious. I'm so glad you had the great pleasure of seeing her in person.

Thank you for visiting me, too.

katrice said...

Love Ella! Two words for you: "At Last." That song makes me smile!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Katrice,

I've always associated that beautiful song with Etta James, the third of my favorite female singers. But I'm sure Ella must have done it, too. She did every good song ever written.