Jazz Notes: Jazz Icon Ella Fitzgerald Honored With NYC Mayoral Proclamation on Her Birthday
By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, April 25 2017
Even though the legendary Ella Fitzgerald died in 1996 at her home in Beverley Hills, she was a bona fide New Yorker throughout her remarkable career. Her story as The First Lady of Song began at the Apollo Theater in 1934 when she won the venue’s illustrious—and still alive to this day—Amateur Night. Her final public concert took place in 1991 at Carnegie Hall.
She came up through the jazz ranks first as a member of the Chick Webb Orchestra whose home base was at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem (after Webb’s death, she became the leader of the big band before launching her solo calling alongside such noteworthies as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong). As a stalwart singer of the Great American Songbook of standards, her phrasing and intonation were impeccable and her ability to scat as an instrument within the band is still deemed remarkable to this day—and widely emulated.
Today, on April 25, the day of Fitzgerald’s birth 100 years ago, she was celebrated nationwide—especially at Starbucks that prized her musical legacy by playing her music all day in all its locations nationwide. Back in New York, in a ceremony at the resplendent Rainbow Room, 65 stories above Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office in collaboration with the Verve Records Group proclaimed it “Ella Fitzgerald Day.” With the Proclamation on the left side of the stage and a stunning framed print of Ella by her friend and one-time neighbor Tony Bennett on the right (the original is in the Smithsonian Institution), the song stylist stood in the middle, said a few words of love for what she brought to the music world, then sang a heartfelt version of the Gershwin gem, “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”
Earlier in the program, a six-student choir from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (which Bennett had founded in his hometown of Astoria, Queens) sang a resounding take on another Ella favorite, “Blue Skies,” dampened a bit by the fact that the Rainbow Room was enshrouded with fog on a rainy day.
Bennett’s son Danny Bennett, who recently assumed the title of president of Verve, welcomed the crowd and spoke briefly about how label owner Norman Granz had fostered Fitzgerald’s career that was being honored in her centennial year with frequent reissues, including the just-released 4-CD collection, Ella 100: 100 Songs for a Centennial and a 6-LP vinyl collection, Ella Sings the George & Ira Gershwin Songbook. Commissioner Julie Menin, from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, presented the proclamation plaque award to Richard Rosman and Fran Morris-Rosman of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.
The younger Bennett noted that Fitzgerald, who was a Kennedy Center Honoree and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of the Arts, received 13 Grammy Awards as well as was significant in breaking down the racial barriers by being the first African American to ever receive a Grammy—two in 1958 for Best Jazz Performance and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. (She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.) In a Twitter birthday note by Quincy Jones today, he writes, “#EllaFitzgerald was revolutionary in every sense of the word.”
Happy 100 Ella!
Cover: Painting of Ella Fitzgerald by Tony Bennett; photo: Dan Ouellette/ZEALnyc.