Ella Fitzgerald sang our lives into perspective with a smoky three octave voice that rose and fell during a time when we listened with our ears and not our eyes, without noting what curves her body possessed and instead fell deeply in love with her sound which still resonates across the barriers of age, time, social strata and race.
Today advertisements offer us pricey ways to become “timeless” and “flawless.” Those offerings are just about keeping a wave upon the sand, whereas Ms. Fitzgerald represents the ocean of human emotion.
According to her official website, “Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Va. on April 25, 1917. Her father, William, and mother, Temperance (Tempie), parted ways shortly after her birth. Together, Tempie and Ella went to Yonkers, N.Y, where they eventually moved in with Tempie's longtime boyfriend Joseph Da Silva. To support the family, Joe dug ditches and was a part-time chauffeur, while Tempie worked at a laundromat and did some catering. Occasionally, Ella took on small jobs to contribute money as well. Perhaps naïve to the circumstances, Ella worked as a runner for local gamblers, picking up their bets and dropping off money.”
I tell kids here that you can go anywhere if you have a song in your ear and I really believe that, largely because it is Fitzgerald’s voice in my heart that often pulls me back onto the rocky path.
The first songs I ever sang, at age 5, were Fitzgerald hits that my nanny played on the record player in our New York City apartment. Decades later, I sang them to audition for my spot in a tight and tiny vocal jazz program at a New Jersey college with instructor Myra Murphy.
When I had children and lived aboard a sailboat, I sang into the wind with what I often hoped was her voice and then crooned one of her famous tunes to my sons at bedtime.
I call them her songs, even though she didn’t write them. George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, or some other brilliant composer wrote them, but Ella, she made them sing. She made me sing. She makes me sing.
“I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood. I know I could, always be good, to one who'll watch over me,” is a song, a sigh, a prayer, and a bedtime soothing. She didn’t sing them, she breathed them into you.
Fitzgerald performed during a time when music and voice were all that mattered and so they endure and are imitated today. They’re imitated, but seldom can a modern record production and artist match the spirit and cast the thrall that Fitzgerald did in her recordings.
When it came to joy she could swing it and make words like: “From this moment on, you for me dear,
Only two for tea dear, from this moment on, From this happy day, no more blue songs,
Only hoop-dee-doo songs,” make perfect and ageless sense.
One of the many gifts Fitzgerald had was that you believed her. When she sang she didn’t phone it in or auto-tone the pitch. Fitzgerald was the real deal.
I think the song she sang that really sums up her music and the passion many still hold for and from it can be found in the song Our Love is Here to Stay, written by George Gershwin, the lyrics by Ira Gershwin, but immortalized by the First Lady of Jazz:
The more I read the papers, the less I comprehend.
The world and all it’s capers and how it all will end.
Nothing seems to be lasting, but that isn’t our affair.
We’ve got something permanent,
I mean in the way we care.
It’s very clear our love is here to stay.
Not for a year, but ever and a day.
The radio and the telephone.
And the movies that we know.
May just be passing fancies and in time may go.
But, oh my dear, our love is here to stay.
Together were going a long, long way.
In time the rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay.
But our love is here to stay.
I know we’re celebrating what could have been her birthday, long after her body stopped its song. However, I’m here to tell you that Ella Fitzgerald will never die. Ella and our love for her, are here to stay.