"I never knew how good our songs were," Ira Gershwin once said, "until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them."
Ella Fitzgerald, the Voice of Jazz
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: June 16, 1996
Ella Fitzgerald, whose sweet, silvery voice and endlessly inventive vocal improvisations made her the most celebrated jazz singer of her generation, died yesterday at home in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 79.
She had been suffering from diabetes and its eyesight and circulatory system complications for many years. In 1993, both of her legs were amputated below the knees.
A pre-eminent American singer who brought a classic sense of musical proportion and balance to everything she touched, Miss Fitzgerald won the sobriquet "first lady of song" and earned the unqualified admiration of most of her peers. Musicians from Bing Crosby to Benny Goodman, when asked to name their favorite singer, cited Ella Fitzgerald.
"Man, woman or child, Ella is the greatest," Crosby once said. Mel Torme hailed her as having "the best ear of any singer ever." Until the 1970's, when physical problems began to impinge on her perfect technique, this hefty, unglamorous woman seemed to loom as an immutable creative force in a musical world where everything else was crumbling.
In a career that spanned six decades, Miss Fitzgerald stood above the emotional fray of the scores of popular standards she performed. Stylistically she was the polar opposite of her equally legendary peer, Billie Holiday, who conveyed a wounded vulnerability. Even when handed a sad song, Miss Fitzgerald communicated a wistful, sweet-natured compassion for the heartache she described.
Where Holiday and Frank Sinatra lived out the dramas they sang about, Miss Fitzgerald, viewing them from afar, seemed to understand and forgive all. Her apparent equanimity and her clear pronunciation, which transcended race, ethnicity, class and age, made her a voice of profound reassurance and hope.
Over the decades, Miss Fitzgerald performed with big bands, symphony orchestras and small jazz groups. Her repertory encompassed show tunes, jazz songs, novelties (like her first major hit, "A-Tisket A-Tasket," recorded in 1938), bossa nova, and even opera ("Porgy and Bess" excerpts, recorded with Louis Armstrong). At her jazziest, her material became a springboard for ever-changing, ebullient vocal inventions, delivered in a sweet, girlish voice that could leap, slide or growl anywhere within a range of nearly three octaves.
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I'm feeling mighty lonesome
Haven't slept a wink
I walk the floor and watch the door
And in between I drink
Love's a hand me down brew
I'll never know a Sunday
In this weekday room
I'm talking to the shadows
1 o'clock to 4
And Lord, how slow the moments go
When all I do is pour
Since the blues caught my eye
I'm hanging out on Monday
My Sunday dream's too dry
Now a man is born to go a lovin'
A woman's born to weep and fret
To stay at home and tend her oven
And drown her past regrets
In coffee and cigarettes
I'm moody all the morning
Mourning all the night
And in between it's nicotine
And not much hard to fight
Feelin' low as the ground
It's driving me crazy just waiting for my baby
To maybe come around
My nerves have gone to pieces
My hair is turning gray
All I do is drink black coffee
Since my man's gone away
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How High the Moon
By FRANK RICH
Ella Fitzgerald could turn any song into an oxygen rush of bouncing melody that reached the listener's ears as pure, untroubled joy -- the eternally young sound of a young country.
June 19, 1996
Ella Fitzgerald's Playfulness Ripens With Time's Passage
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Ella Fitzgerald, who will turn 73 on April 25, commands an undiminished rhythmic inventiveness, but her voice has developed a wobble that makes her ability to sustain notes somewhat uncertain. But ever the resourceful technician, she has learned how to work around her vocal seams, and there are moments she even uses them to expressive advantage.
April 15, 1991
Ward of the State;The Gap in Ella Fitzgerald's Life
By NINA BERNSTEIN
Ella Fitzgerald sang jazz in a voice so pure and perfected that it admitted no pain -- and America loved her for it. In her sound we soared over the darkest passages of our nation's history, to a place where race and class lost all dominion. Yet the public never knew the full measure of her accomplishment, because for over 60 years she kept the cruelest chapter of her own history a secret: her confinement for more than a year in a reformatory when she was an orphaned teen-ager.
June 23, 1996