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Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald

Five ways to celebrate The First Lady of Song, from illustration to rare concert footage.

On April 25, 1917, the world welcomed the great Ella Fitzgerald, nicknamed The First Lady of Song. Her remarkable recording career spanned 59 years, garnered 13 Grammys and forever changed the face of jazz with her signature improvisational scat singing. Today, we celebrate Lady Ella five ways.


Ella’s legendary scat singing springs to life in this rare recording from June 22, 1969. Here, she performs One Note Samba with Ed Thigpen on drums, Frank de la Rosa on bass, and Tommy Flanagan on piano.


As far as artistic collaborations go, hardly does it get more iconic and powerful than Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. While sifting through YouTube’s annoying array of static-photo-with-low-quality-audio-recording non-videos for a decent example, we stumbled upon this lovely animation from BBC4, a charming take on one of their most beloved duets, Dream A Little Dream Of Me:


It’s no secret we have a soft spot for children’s books. So we love Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald from author Roxanne Orgill and mixed-media artist Sean Qualls — the wonderfully illustrated rags-to-riches story of how Lady Ella sang her way from the streets of Yonkers to jazz history.

Bonus points: Interwoven throughout the eloquent biographical narrative are snippets of Fitzgerald’s most iconic songs.

But what makes Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat most noteworthy is the very concept of engaging kids with jazz — another facet of the kind of cross-disciplinary curiosity that’s fundamental to true “education” and creativity.


It hardly gets more classic than Lady Ella belting George Gershwin’s Summertime, as she does in this rare and powerful footage from a 1968 concert in Berlin:


This rare photograph of Ella on stage in New York in 1948 comes from Jazz — the humbly titled yet absolutely amazing retrospective of the work of legendary photographer Herman Leonard, which we reviewed last year. Leonard had been photographing jazz musicians since the 1950s and developed close friendships with greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, which gave him unique access to these innovators and their larger worlds beyond the stage. The book reveals a rare glimpse of the underbelly of a cultural revolution through stunning, luminous never-before-seen images of icons like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and more.

Leonard captures, with his signature visual eloquence, the grace and elegance with which Lady Ella was able to command a room’s attention, transfixing the audience like the vocal hypnotist that she was.

Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, NYC, New York, 1948
Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Published April 25, 2011




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