Ella Fitzgerald: A jazz/pop singing icon in stature comparative to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn and several others. From the lowest lows to the highest highs, Ella experienced a rough childhood of family separation, family death, and surviving through the great depression of the 1930’s; her life circumstance took a turn for the better at the young age of 17. Having won the opportunity to perform during amateur night at the Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Ella had her first taste of the spotlight and, with positive reception, went on to sing for numerous bands with a multitude of famous musicians and fellow singers. Ella lead an extremely successful career, winning 13 Grammys and selling over 40 million albums. She has been referred to as the “First Lady of Song” and the “Queen of Jazz.” Ella’s spectacular practice of song interpretation and vocal talents make her and her legacy an inspiration to future generations of vocalists. Listed below are a few of Ella’s recordings that best depict the concept of song interpretation in how a performer can personalize a pre-existing song and transform it into their own personal message:
Ella’s rendition of “It’s only a Paper Moon” reflects her optimistic personality despite all of the struggles she’s lived through. Her parents separated early in her life, with her mother passing away when she was 15 years old. Growing up as an African-American woman is the early to mid 1900’s was a struggle in itself, and continues to be a struggle today. Ella’s singing of this standard gives the listener an authentic feeling that with some love and positivity, she can overcome the worst of situations.
Ella’s version of “Someone to Watch Over Me” could be a nod to the struggles in her relationships. Her first marriage was annulled after learning of her first husband’s criminal activity. Her second marriage ended in divorce as a result of career pressure from both parties. There have been rumors of a secret third marriage. Shortly after this news the supposed husband was also convicted of criminal activity like the first. This song may be considered a statement on Ella’s lament of her love life.
Ella’s performance of “Misty” carries a similar feeling to “Someone to Watch Over Me” with the idea of struggles in love. This video of her live performance further reinforces the raw, inflicted emotion Ella provides in her singing (did she give you goosebumps too?). The power of her interpretation of this song is intensified by her use of melisma and vibrato.
Several other of her performances could be used, but I have chosen these three to represent Ella’s contribution to the history of popular culture. These three song selections highlight her strong, everlasting influence on the future of jazz/pop singing through her deep, personal song interpretation of jazz standards and her singing talents as a skillful vocalist.
“Biography.” The Official Website of Ella Fitzgerald. http://www.ellafitzgerald.com/about/index.html. (accessed Oct. 7, 2016).
Cocomoonlight(Uploader). “Ella Fitzgerald – Misty”. YouTube video, 2:53. Posted [May 7, 2006]. https://youtu.be/mQouJdvB80U. (accessed October 7, 2016).
“Ella Fitzgerald Biography.” Ella Fitzgerald – Singer – Biography.com. http://www.biography.com/people/ella-fitzgerald-9296210. (accessed October 7, 2016).
Overjazz Records(Uploader). “Ella Fitzgerald – It’s Only A Paper Moon (1961)”. YouTube video, 2:35. Posted [Oct 2, 2015]. https://youtu.be/fvShqJqyk14. (accessed October 7, 2016).
Seniors Jazz(Uploader). “Ella Fitzgerald – Someone to Watch Over Me (HD) Official Seniors Jazz”. YouTube video, 3:13. Posted [May 28, 2015]. https://youtu.be/1ggh6BAG4cs. (accessed October 7, 2016).
Wikipedia contributors, “Ella Fitzgerald,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ella_Fitzgerald&oldid=742624835 (accessed October 4, 2016).