Worth a Lick

We’re almost out of children’s storybook stamps, and I’m excited to buy a book of these.

Commemorative Ella Fitzgerald stamps will be released on Wednesday, as part of the annual Black Heritage series! The personal anecdotes about Ella in that story really touched me.

“Phoebe Jacobs, executive vice president of The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation and a longtime friend of Fitzgerald, described the singer as “a very private lady, very humble.”

After Fitzgerald confided in 1961 that she had never had a birthday party, Jacobs was able to gather a star-studded collection of people for the special event. The party was a secret, so Fitzgerald was told to dress up because there was a television interview.

“When the lights came on she took her pocket book and hit me on the shoulder,” Jacobs recalled. “She was like a little kid, she was so happy.”

So adorable! Ella sounds like my kind of lady.

Unlike many of the other jazz vocalists of her era, she was never wrapped up in image, and never presented herself as an iconic figure. That’s why in my mind, they all are referred to by first name, last name – Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Nina Simone… and she’s just Ella. Sweet, funny Ella who was always more about the sheer, raw talent than the look. That MSNBC story highlights that aspect of her as well.

“Fitzgerald, who died in 1996, was never one to stand on formality, Jacobs said. Once the two pulled on raincoats over their pajamas, piled into Fitzgerald’s Rolls Royce and went to breakfast at a McDonalds.”

I’d have gotten a McGriddle with her any day of the week.

Ella Fitzgerald’s music isn’t about forceful histronics, and in my opinion, today’s singers could stand to learn a hell of a lot from her. Her voice spills out of her so effortlessly, so perfectly. Listen to her singing Angel Eyes live in Amsterdam and think, how many live performances have you heard that were so note-perfect without lipsynching?

She could even sing a nursery rhyme and make it swing like nobody’s business. How cute is she, doing this rave-up version of Alright, OK, You Win?

I love it when she just cuts loose and has fun with a song. One of the most famous examples of that is her ever-popular version of Mack The Knife.

She could get bluesy, as she does here singing Imagine My Frustration, or sweet and soulful as she is crooning Lover Man.

Ella Fitzgerald is one of my favorite singers of all time, and in my opinion, somewhat of an unsung heroine. Because she didn’t die young, or under romantic circumstances; because she never made a fuss about being “the first lady of song,” and never thought of herself as a “celebrity,” whatever that means, she stayed true to the essence of who she was. Always Ella.

Her son, Ray Brown Jr., explains it best when discussing how she would react to the stamp:

“She would be very honored, very pleased and a little surprised,” said Ray Brown Jr., Fitzgerald’s son. “She didn’t go through life expecting all the accolades that she got. She was just happy to do her thing and be the best that she could be. People who don’t know about her will see the stamp and think: “What makes this person special? And perhaps find out about the person and about the music,” he added.

I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who don’t know who Ella Fitzgerald is, but then, I did teach an introductory college English class and none of my students had ever heard Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit before. Some of them didn’t know who she was!

So if you don’t know who Ella is, get ready to find out. This video features a fierce live version of “Let’s Fall in Love” set to an awesome montage of photos of Ella through the ages. She’s always well coiffed, always elegant, and in her later years she reminds me so much of the older relatives and family friends from my youth; who smelled like brandy and baby powder, and told ribald stories about old time carnival.

We love you, Ella! You are gone, but you’ll never be forgotten.

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Comments

  1. Girl! This is my kind of post. I love our pioneer divas! And, Ella Fitzgerald, while humble, was indeed a bona fide diva.

    I will be purchasing a STACK of those stamps and they will go very nicely with my stamps of Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Hattie McDaniel.

  2. OH, and FYI on another great Ella song: her rendition of “Ill Wind” is one of my favorites.

  3. I love, love, LOVE Ella! She stays on my playlist. I love her rendition of The Lady is a Tramp. I will have to pick up these stamps.

  4. Also, now I am off to find this version of Let’s Fall in Love.

  5. My mom used to go to the same beauty shop in L.A. (had to be in the 50s or 60s) as Ella and Dinah Washington. I grew up hearing about how lovely and warm and classy Ella was (sadly, not so for Dinah). I used to not like her voice–it was too clear, too pure for me–but I’ve grown out of that. I just hadn’t listened enough!

  6. I read about this stamp today and became so excited! I can’t wait to get a book.

  7. LBellatrix says:

    Seeing Ella perform live, about 5-6 years before her death, remains one of the concert highlights of my life.

    Imagine an old woman who looks like she could be a relative of yours, having to be helped onto a stage where it’s just her sitting on a chair (the orchestra’s in the pit, of course). Then the music starts up and the woman opens her mouth and…WOW…it’s like she’s still in her 30s and you’re listening to her and sipping a drink at some swanky 1950s nightclub.

    (Okay, this is assuming they’d even let you in the door, but let’s not let this bit of history spoil the image…)

    And each time she finishes she says “Thank you” with this little giggle like she’s even younger than her 30s.

    Will there ever be another Ella? I doubt it.

  8. Black Honey says:

    Her voice was as clear as a bell. Beautiful

  9. OH I love this post! I adore her music – hearing “Mack the Knife” for the first time in a music class I took in high school got me hooked! Aside from that, my two favorites are Black Coffee and Night and Day. She is sort of slept on, right? I never really cared to buy a book of commemorative stamps (because I rarely make use of stamps!) but I will definitely be buying these!

  10. This woman is one of my all time favorite jazz singers. She had such a beautiful and clear voice, i listened to her cds and saw videos of her live and her voice was still great. With such talent and confidence she performed with, i still can’t believed she considered herself a shy person. I applaud her from one shy person to another :-)

  11. AppleDiva says:

    Hey Afrobella,

    Please check out Amy Winehouse’s “Frank”. If you like Ms. Ella, you will like her. She is a UK singer. Let me know what you think.

  12. Great post! I *adore* Ella – and along the lines of this blog’s theme, I wonder if she would’ve gotten more accolades and attention if she had looked more like the European beauty standard that dominated even more heavily back in the day? I recall reading a passage from Dorothy Dandridge’s autobiography where she admits that she doesn’t have the best singing voice, yet she was able to book more club dates than Ella. (Maybe that was only in the USA? *shrug*) The reason, she said, was that men don’t dream about sleeping with Ella. I was shocked and impressed by her frankness . . . much like Ms. Berry, Dorothy was very aware of the downsides of being (what society calls) beautiful.

  13. AppleDiva, I LOVE Amy Winehouse! It’s like you peeked into my playlist. Back to Black is my favorite song right now.

  14. An fascinating discussion is worth comment. I think that you must write more on this subject, it won’t be a taboo topic however generally persons are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

Trackbacks

  1. Anonymous says:

    Worth a Lick

    Ella Fitzgerald is commemorated for Black History Month with a stamp of her very own. The jazz diva would have been pleased and proud.

  2. [...] Whenever people think about all-time great jazz divas, the order typically goes: Billie, Ella, Sarah, Nina. Dinah Washington doesn’t necessarily get that first-name recognition, but she should. Because she was one bad bella. [...]

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