Today we’re taking a look back at Ella Fitzgerald who would have turned 98 today if she was still with us. Often cited as the “Queen of Jazz” she’s fondly remembered for her vocal range that spanned three octaves and her unbelievable warmth she inserted into all her songs. No one could scat quite like Ella and no one ever will. With the diction and tone she used, imitation is impossible.
She recorded for over 60 years, made close to 100 albums, sold millions and won 14 Grammys – not bad for a Virginia girl, born to unwed parents who grew up in poverty and eventually homelesss.
Here she sings ‘Air Mail Special’ which is a prime example of why she is considered the queen of scat.
Ella was so big that her manager actually created Verve Records around her. Fitzgerald, who was with Decca for years, later described the period as strategically crucial, saying, “I had gotten to the point where I was only singing be-bop. I thought be-bop was ‘it’, and that all I had to do was go some place and sing bop. But it finally got to the point where I had no place to sing. I realized then that there was more to music than bop. Norman … felt that I should do other things, so he produced The Cole Porter Songbook with me. It was a turning point in my life.” She would shift her song selections from standards to rarities and represented an attempt to cross over into a non-jazz audience. The Songbook series ended up becoming the singer’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work. The New York Times wrote in 1996, “These albums were among the first pop records to devote such serious attention to individual songwriters, and they were instrumental in establishing the pop album as a vehicle for serious musical exploration.”
Sadly in the early ’90s, Ella feel ill and even lost both of her legs in 1993 to diabetes. 1996 came and Ella was tired of being in the hospital so she chose to go home. “I just want to smell the air, listen to the birds and hear Alice (her granddaughter) laugh,” she reportedly said. On her last day, she was wheeled outside one last time, and sat there for about an hour. When she was taken back in, she looked up with a soft smile on her face and said, “I’m ready to go now.” She died in her home on June 15, 1996 at the age of 79.
We miss you, Ella.