Alright Homestuck, it’s time to take a short break from our usual genres of music in favor of something with a little bit of history and a whole lot of class. I’m going to tell you about the best singer who ever lived.
Her name is Ella Fitzgerald; Queen of Jazz, First Lady of Song.
That song up there is called “You’ll Have to Swing It” or “Mr. Paganini,” a classic jazz standard that was popularized largely by Ella herself. This particular recording is my favorite one, it comes from her legendary twelve-night gig at the Crescendo club in Hollywood. There at the top of this post, take a look at that photo. The audience is enraptured, and center among them is Duke Ellington, world famous composer, songwriter, pianist and bandleader. Even the Duke himself was known to be in perfect, worshipful awe when Ella sang her songs.
Guys, this lady is incredible. She started off in a pretty bad way, being born in Harlem to a father who left and a mother who died young of illness, leaving her in the care of an abusive stepfather. Before her career in music she is known to have worked street jobs, the stories say at a brothel or as a mafia numbers runner. Even after her career started in 1934 she was married twice; both ended in divorce.
She was known to be shy and quiet, mostly keeping to herself. Band members she worked with would say that she was a lonely person. She even said once “I don’t want to say the wrong thing, which I always do. I think I do better when I sing.”
As for her voice, she had an astounding three-octave range, and a perfection of tone and intonation that is simply the best there ever was. Beyond that she was known for invention, popularizing the scat style of improvisation. Over her career she casually took home thirteen Grammys, not to mention the two awards given to her personally by two U.S. Presidents. The world has never seen and will never see again the likes of Ella or the divinity of her vocals. When writing a memorial piece after she passed away in 1996, music critic Will Friedwald had this to say:
Unlike any other singer you could name, Fitzgerald has the most amazing asset in the very sound of her voice: it’s easily one of the most beautiful and sonically perfect sounds known to man. Even if she couldn’t do anything with it, the instrument that Fitzgerald starts with is dulcet and pure and breathtakingly beautiful. As Henry Pleasants has observed, she has a wider range than most opera singers, and many of the latter, including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, are among her biggest fans. And the intonation that goes with the voice is, to put it conservatively, God-like. Fitzgerald simply exists in tune, and she hits every note that there is without the slightest trace of effort. Other singers tend to sound like they’re trying to reach up to a note - Fitzgerald always sounds like she’s already there. If anything, she’s descending from her heavenly perch and swooping down to whatever pitch she wants.
That guy Friedwald just mentioned, Henry Pleasants? This Henry guy doesn’t even care about jazz; he usually writes about opera singers and classical vocalists. But this this is what he has to say about Ella:
She has a lovely voice, one of the warmest and most radiant in its natural range that I have heard in a lifetime of listening to singers in every category. She has an impeccable and ultimately sophisticated rhythmic sense, and flawless intonation. Her harmonic sensibility is extraordinary. She is endlessly inventive… it is not so much what she does, or even the way she does it, it’s what she does not do. What she does not do, putting it simply as possible, is anything wrong. There is simply nothing in performance to which one would take exception… Everything seems to be just right. One would not want it any other way. Nor can one, for a moment imagine it any other way.
As for me, I own eight of Ella’s albums, and they’re the most treasured pieces in my personal music collection. Even if you’re not into jazz, I seriously recommend checking her recordings out. She’s one of my greatest musical heroes, and she’s someone I think every lover of music should be familiar with.