Monday, December 06, 2010

Music Monday ~ ELLA

DAY #1 Kicks off in musical vein, as usual:

What led me to decide that Ella Fitzgerald should be Music Monday's "victim" this week? It was a song - one among the hundreds that she sang so perfectly, more often than not bringing us the definitive version. I like to be able to hear every word of the lyrics of any song, and Ella was one of surprisingly few vocalists who respected the poetry enough to make sure we do hear every word.

Ella could sing anything.....anything! Midnight Sun led me back to her this week. It's the only song I know, and probably the only one in the English language, which contains the word "crystalline" also contains the word "December", bringing it into timely focus. The great Johnnie Mercer wrote the lyrics, the music was composed by jazz musician Lionel Hampton and band leader Sonny Burke. It's a great favourite of mine.

.........................Was there such a night, it's a thrill I still don't quite believe,
But after you were gone, there was still some stardust on my sleeve.

The flame of it may dwindle to an ember, and the stars forget to shine,
And we may see the meadow in December, icy white and crystalline,
But oh my darling always I'll remember when your lips were close to mine,
And we saw the Midnight Sun.............................
There are numerous brief biographies of Ella online, along with many obituaries published after her death in 1996. I won't labour the detail, here's a simple outline only, drawn from
and Ella's Official Site

Ella was born out of wedlock, her parents went their separate ways after a few years and Ella, with her mother and a new stepfather, moved to Yonkers, New York. Her mother died in 1932, Ella was taken into care by her aunt with whom she did not get along. She ran away, lived rough until caught and sent to a Training School. The school's authoritarian regime caused Ella to run away yet again. She lived on the streets, scratching a living by dancing for tips. In late 1934 and early 1935 Ella won a couple of Amateur Hour talent shows in Harlem, these wins were a turning point. Soon she was working as vocalist in local ballrooms, and here began her true rags-to-riches journey, now a part of music history.

In 1938, at the age of 21, Ella recorded a playful version of the nursery rhyme, A-Tisket, A-Tasket. The album sold 1 million copies, hit number one, and stayed on the pop charts for 17 weeks. Suddenly, Ella Fitzgerald was famous.
(More at the above links.)

All sources describe Ella as a very shy, private person. Her vocal style has been contrasted with that of more emotionally-led stylists. From an obituary in the New York Times

A pre-eminent American singer who brought a classic sense of musical proportion and balance to everything she touched, Ella Fitzgerald won the sobriquet "first lady of song" and earned the unqualified admiration of most of her peers. Musicians from Bing Crosby to Benny Goodman, when asked to name their favorite singer, cited Ella Fitzgerald.

In a career that spanned six decades, Miss Fitzgerald stood above the emotional fray of the scores of popular standards she performed. Stylistically she was the polar opposite of her equally legendary peer, Billie Holiday, who conveyed a wounded vulnerability. Even when handed a sad song, Miss Fitzgerald communicated a wistful, sweet-natured compassion for the heartache she described.

Where Holiday and Frank Sinatra lived out the dramas they sang about, Miss Fitzgerald, viewing them from afar, seemed to understand and forgive all. Her apparent equanimity and her clear pronunciation, which transcended race, ethnicity, class and age, made her a voice of profound reassurance and hope. — Stephen Holden

Ella married at least twice, possibly three times but no relationship lasted, due either to the husband's criminality (first marriage and third relationship), or pressures of show business (second marriage, during which a son was adopted.)

In September of 1986, Ella underwent quintuple coronary bypass surgery. Doctors also replaced a valve in her heart and diagnosed her with diabetes, which they blamed for her failing eyesight. In 1993 the effects of diabetes resulted in amputation of both legs below the knees. In 1996 she died of the disease in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 79.

A little astrology:

Ella Fitzgerald was born on 25 April 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. No time of birth is known. Some sources give her birth year as 1918, but Astrodatabank quotes as source a biography by Stuart Nicholson, "Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz," Scribner and Sons, NY, 1994, p.4:
"Ella Fitzgerald's enigmatic life began a year earlier than the date shown in all the reference books....The state reigistrar for Virginia confims she was born Ella Jane Fitzgerlad on Wednesday, April 25, 1917, in Newport News City".

Sun was exactly (within minutes of arc) conjunct Venus, planet of the arts as Ella was born, and in the sign Taurus, rulership of Venus, so the musical planet was very much at home. Additional arty support comes from Jupiter and Mercury both in Taurus.

I notice that Mercury was at the degree of Fixed Star Algol, thought by ancient astrologers to be unfortunate. We might say that this didn't manifest in Ella's case, though the diabetes which dogged the second half of her life, causing serious and fatal problems might well be a reflection of Algol's ancient reputation.

At 12 noon the Moon was at 25 Gemini - had Ella been born around 10.00PM or later Moon would have moved into Cancer. Cancer Moon would match her reported shyness and need for privacy far better than a chatty and sociable Gemini Moon. We'll probably never have access to an accurate time of her birth though.

Mars in its home sign, Aries, is in challenging square to Saturn in Cancer. In Ella's case I'd interpret this as an ongoing need to challenge or endure obstacles and limitations. In her life story it manifested early on during a troubled childhood background. Running away was her way of challenging problems back then. Later, as her health deteriorated she must regularly have had to endure inconvenience, pain and discomfort, but none of it could stop her rise to legendary staus. Her natal Mars square Saturn did its job!


SOMETHING - Written by George Harrison.


Wisewebwoman said...

thanks T. She is my absolutely favourite female singer of all time and I play her at least once a week.

anyjazz said...

There's a reason she was called "The First Lady of Song."

It is so seldom a rare talent like Ella comes along.

Thanks for the post. It was just the nudge I needed to get out the stack of Ella's "songbook" recordings. She never missed.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ She never disappoints ! One doesn't need to be an out-and-out jazz fan to appreciate her either. She and Sinatra are two singers who "tick all the boxes" for me.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~~ Yes. Listening to the variety of styles she could tackle with ease, as I've been doing recently - I'm certain that there's really nobody else now, or in the past, that could touch her. True class!

Rossa said...

Couldn't agree more. With a voice like liquid chocolate, so smooth rich and velvety. Best female singer of all time, though Nina Simone is a close second.

For me the modern day "divas" can't hold a candle to her. Only one that gets anywhere near is Aretha Franklin. And I've seen her blow other female singers off stage that are half her age.

And thanks for the Midnight Sun video. I've not heard that one before. Now in my Youtube favourites list.

Twilight said...

Rossa ~~~ Glad you admire her too.
Yes, Nina and Sarah Vaughan come close, but they don't have the versatility of Ella, in my opinion.
She was a "one-off".

Present day, there's nobody close. Diana Krall is good though - on a jazzy level. Though again, without the versatility to dive into other styles as Ella did.