Skip to content

Ella Fitzgerald: Gentle Awe

I was planning to write about Ella Fitzgerald yesterday, in honor of her centennial, but really: what’s left to say? I consider her if not the greatest female singer of all time, way way way up there. So does everybody else. Not just the pitch perfect, the incredible elocution, the skillful, supple womanliness. More (and this is why I decided to write a little about the woman) she had an innate dignity, a sort of pride in how she was perceived, which didn’t transcend race, it exemplified race.

Ella’s personal life was as messy as anyone’s, her brutal step father, her singing on the streets of harlem, her messy marriages, the usual baggage of a life well lived, but in her public persona, in the way in which we see her, we see something else.

Among my friends of color, I have become close to some who are the greatest ladies and gentlemen I’ve ever come in contact with. It is like there is a DNA stretch where the world becomes Sidney Poitier: perfect diction, perfect manners, a level of grace and compartment which makes the face of racism in pursuit of these people seem like a form of insanity. One of my closest friends, Robert Nevin, had it.: when people dealt with him, they treated him with respect because he also treated the people around him so respectfully without ever being less than an equal part of the world about him. Some actors may have it, civic leaders sometimes have it, and Louis Armstrong, Ella’s greatest foil, didn’t have it: he was a giddy mischief maker.

Ella had it.

When she poured out her heart, whether nursery rhymes, or Gershwin tunes, the Queen of jazz resolved from sass to a glowing respect for herself and for everyone around her. When you listen to Ella, you feel as though there is a mutual respect between her and us, a handling us with the greatest of regard and performing with the greatest of will not to be pulled under by the ugliness of Jim Crow, in the 30s, 40s, 50s. The disregard for black women’s achievements (have you seen “Hidden Figures”) can only be ignored so far when it came to Ella. My friend Mike Holcomb noted this quote: “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.” – Ira Gershwin. There is simply no way to see this exemplary figure in black history as anything less than a complete meeting of woman and art form.

This all sounds very positive, but is it really? Essentially, people were being forced to show superhuman perseverance so as to be accepted as normal and that is, in fact, horrible. To discount how racism affected musicians from that (and, indeed, from this) era, is to misunderstood their genius. Ella’s genius was in a persona that dug deep into the roots of black music, both jazz and the blues, and maintain both what it is and what it needs to be to a mainstream white audience. If she isn’t a whore, a junkie, an illiterate, then what was she?

Ella wasn’t Aretha, she wasn’t singing “RESPECT,’ she was embodying a public life where treating Ella with disrespect would be obscene. Aretha pulled up her brothers and sisters not by example, but by righteous anger, and Ella was simply a goal to attempt to be reached. Even today, Aretha’s dustup with Dionne, was not something that would not make the slightest sense from Ella. Ella tackled the Great American Songbook and forced it to be perfect, the song needed to be sublime encapsulations for Ella and when they were, she made them substantially better by treating them with gentle awe. Much the way we feel about her today: gentle awe.

 

1 Comments

  1. Robert Nevin on April 27, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Your extremely kind words about me aside, Iman, your insights in to the life and times of Ella (and other black performers of the early-mid 20th century) are spot on. I came to an appreciation of Ella Fitzgerald due, in no small measure, to your writings about her. Excellent post! Gentle awe, indeed.

Leave a Comment





Amazon_Smile_logo-e1623352788338-reupload
ScreenShot2020-10-05at12.00.04PM-reupload

Support Let Me Help Inc by shopping at smile.amazon.com

The Daisy Jopling Band To Perform “Who’s Who” At The Transfiguration Church In Tarrytown, NY Sunday May 12th, 2024 7 PM ET

By admin | May 9, 2024 |

The Transfiguration Church in Tarrytown, New York Presents “Who’s Who”, original violin arrangements of iconic songs by The Who performed by the Daisy Jopling Band featuring the Sleepy Hollow High School Chamber Orchestra on Sunday, May 12th, 2024. Location: Transfiguration Church 268 South Broadway Tarrytown, NY 10591 United States Tickets are $25 and can be…

Cyborg Drummer/DJ DRMAGDN Headlining Montauk Music Fest

By admin | April 9, 2024 |

Major Label BMG Records Artist & Producer DRMAGDN Cyborg Drummer / DJ will be making his Montauk Music Fest debut this year in May. DRMAGDN will be the Official Host & MC of The Montauk Music Fest plus play headlining sets on Friday 5/17 and Saturday 5/18 from 10pm-12am at Gurney’s Montauk Resort (290 Old…

RED CARPET EVENT @ Chelsea Table & Stage 4/12/24 Featuring THE AMERICAN RELICS & DRMAGDN

By admin | March 25, 2024 |

On Friday April 12th, 2024 beginning at 6:30 pm ET  there will be a Red Carpet event pre-show sponsored by Tribeca Records at the trendy nightspot Chelsea Table and Stage located in the heart of Chelsea at 152 west 26th street (inside the Hilton Fashion Hotel) in NYC. The Red Carpet will be followed by…

Live Review: Composer Randy Edelman Live at Chelsea T&S “2nd Annual St. Patrick’s Day Massacre” 03/16/24 and Record Release in NYC

By admin | March 17, 2024 |

There was an infinite vitality of velvet green flowing deliciously through the air as Composer Randy Edelman presented his 2nd Annual St. Patrick’s Day Massacre at the trendy new nightspot Chelsea Table & Stage in the heart of NYC on March 16, 2024….. a vivacious close to the spirited Irish Parade. His music is the…

DRMAGDN: Cyborg Drummer/DJ Debuts @ Chelsea T&S With Retro 80’s Party & Red Carpet Event 4/12/24

By admin | February 29, 2024 |

BMG recording artist, producer and World renowned, Global Touring Electrifying Powerhouse, DRMAGDN: Cyborg Drummer and DJ will make his debut at the popular, trendy night spot Chelsea Table & Stage (located at 152 west 26th street inside the Hilton Hotel) on  Friday April 12, 2024 @ 9:00PM. DRMAGDN will be celebrating his high energy brand of Electronic Dance Music (EDM)…

Going Steady: New Singles 2-23-24- 2-29-24 Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | February 26, 2024 |

dance pop, gooey confection

US Top Ten Albums Tracking 2-16-24 – 2-22-24

By Iman Lababedi | February 26, 2024 |

75K EAUs is abysmal

Our Friend Tony Orlando’s Farewell Tour

By admin | February 25, 2024 |

“I still hit the ball, I just can’t run the bases!!!”

Sneak Peaks: New Album releases 3-1-24 – 3-7-24

By Iman Lababedi | February 25, 2024 |

contenders for the best punk rock around

Child Bite, Lamb Of God, Pantera At Madison Square Garden, Thursday, February 22nd, 2024, Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | February 25, 2024 |

A three hours of hard rock, metal not metal, swift, loud, egoless pure metal

Scroll To Top