Tagged with "ella"
Ella Fitzgerald is Dubbed "The First Lady of Song,"
Category: Voices of Jazz
Tags: ella fitzgerald first lady jazz music word life production jazz music feature blog

Dubbed "The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums.

Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the pleasure of working with Ella.)

She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common - they all loved her.

Humble but happy beginnings

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Va. on April 25, 1917. Her father, William, and mother, Temperance (Tempie), parted ways shortly after her birth. Together, Tempie and Ella went to Yonkers, N.Y, where they eventually moved in with Tempie's longtime boyfriend Joseph Da Silva. Ella's half-sister, Frances, was born in 1923 and soon she began referring to Joe as her stepfather.

To support the family, Joe dug ditches and was a part-time chauffeur, while Tempie worked at a laundromat and did some catering. Occasionally, Ella took on small jobs to contribute money as well. Perhaps naïve to the circumstances, Ella worked as a runner for local gamblers, picking up their bets and dropping off money.

Their apartment was in a mixed neighborhood, where Ella made friends easily. She considered herself more of a tomboy, and often joined in the neighborhood games of baseball. Sports aside, she enjoyed dancing and singing with her friends, and some evenings they would take the train into Harlem and watch various acts at the Apollo Theater.

A rough patch

In 1932, Tempie died from serious injuries that she received in a car accident. Ella took the loss very hard. After staying with Joe for a short time, Tempie's sister Virginia took Ella home. Shortly afterward Joe suffered a heart attack and died, and her little sister Frances joined them.

Unable to adjust to the new circumstances, Ella became increasingly unhappy and entered into a difficult period of her life. Her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. Living there was even more unbearable, as she suffered beatings at the hands of her caretakers.

Eventually Ella escaped from the reformatory. The 15-year-old found herself broke and alone during the Great Depression, and strove to endure.

Never one to complain, Ella later reflected on her most difficult years with an appreciation for how they helped her to mature. She used the memories from these times to help gather emotions for performances, and felt she was more grateful for her success because she knew what it was like to struggle in life.

"What's she going to do?"

In 1934 Ella's name was pulled in a weekly drawing at the Apollo and she won the opportunity to compete in Amateur Night. Ella went to the theater that night planning to dance, but when the frenzied Edwards Sisters closed the main show, Ella changed her mind. "They were the dancingest sisters around," Ella said, and she felt her act would not compare.

Once on stage, faced with boos and murmurs of "What's she going to do?" from the rowdy crowd, a scared and disheveled Ella made the last minute decision to sing. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael's "Judy," a song she knew well because Connee Boswell's rendition of it was among Tempie's favorites. Ella quickly quieted the audience, and by the song's end they were demanding an encore. She obliged and sang the flip side of the Boswell Sister's record, "The Object of My Affections."

Off stage, and away from people she knew well, Ella was shy and reserved. She was self-conscious about her appearance, and for a while even doubted the extent of her abilities. On stage, however, Ella was surprised to find she had no fear. She felt at home in the spotlight.

"Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience," Ella said. "I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life."

In the band that night was saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter. Impressed with her natural talent, he began introducing Ella to people who could help launch her career. In the process he and Ella became lifelong friends, often working together.

Fueled by enthusiastic supporters, Ella began entering - and winning - every talent show she could find. In January 1935 she won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. It was there that Ella first met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. Although her voice impressed him, Chick had already hired male singer Charlie Linton for the band. He offered Ella the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University.

"If the kids like her," Chick said, "she stays."

Despite the tough crowd, Ella was a major success, and Chick hired her to travel with the band for $12.50 a week.

Jazzing things up

In mid 1936, Ella made her first recording. "Love and Kisses" was released under the Decca label, with moderate success. By this time she was performing with Chick's band at the prestigious Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, often referred to as "The World's Most Famous Ballroom."

Shortly afterward, Ella began singing a rendition of the song, "(If You Can't Sing It) You Have to Swing It." During this time, the era of big swing bands was shifting, and the focus was turning more toward bebop. Ella played with the new style, often using her voice to take on the role of another horn in the band. "You Have to Swing It" was one of the first times she began experimenting with scat singing, and her improvisation and vocalization thrilled fans. Throughout her career, Ella would master scat singing, turning it into a form of art.

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.

Coming into her own

On June 16, 1939, Ella mourned the loss of her mentor Chick Webb. In his absence the band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Band," and she took on the overwhelming task of bandleader.

Perhaps in search of stability and protection, Ella married Benny Kornegay, a local dockworker who had been pursuing her. Upon learning that Kornegay had a criminal history, Ella realized that the relationship was a mistake and had the marriage annulled.

While on tour with Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1946, Ella fell in love with bassist Ray Brown. The two were married and eventually adopted a son, whom they named Ray, Jr.

At the time, Ray was working for producer and manager Norman Granz on the "Jazz at the Philharmonic" tour. Norman saw that Ella had what it took to be an international star, and he convinced Ella to sign with him. It was the beginning of a lifelong business relationship and friendship.

Under Norman's management, Ella joined the Philharmonic tour, worked with Louis Armstrong on several albums and began producing her infamous songbook series. From 1956-1964, she recorded covers of other musicians' albums, including those by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart. The series was wildly popular, both with Ella's fans and the artists she covered.

"I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them," Ira Gershwin once remarked.

Ella also began appearing on television variety shows. She quickly became a favorite and frequent guest on numerous programs, including "The Bing Crosby Show," "The Dinah Shore Show," "The Frank Sinatra Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show," "The Nat King Cole Show," "The Andy Willams Show" and "The Dean Martin Show."

Due to a busy touring schedule, Ella and Ray were often away from home, straining the bond with their son. Ultimately, Ray Jr. and Ella reconnected and mended their relationship.

"All I can say is that she gave to me as much as she could," Ray, Jr. later said, "and she loved me as much as she could."

Unfortunately, busy work schedules also hurt Ray and Ella's marriage. The two divorced in 1952, but remained good friends for the rest of their lives.

Overcoming discrimination

On the touring circuit it was well-known that Ella's manager felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians, regardless of their color. Norman refused to accept any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants or concert halls, even when they traveled to the Deep South.

Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman's principles barged backstage to hassle the performers. They came into Ella's dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone.

"They took us down," Ella later recalled, "and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph."

Norman wasn't the only one willing to stand up for Ella. She received support from numerous celebrity fans, including a zealous Marilyn Monroe.

"I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt," Ella later said. "It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the '50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn's superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times. And she didn't know it."

Worldwide recognition

Ella continued to work as hard as she had early on in her career, despite the ill effects on her health. She toured all over the world, sometimes performing two shows a day in cities hundreds of miles apart. In 1974, Ella spent a legendary two weeks performing in New York with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Still going strong five years later, she was inducted into the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame, and received Kennedy Center Honors for her continuing contributions to the arts.

Outside of the arts, Ella had a deep concern for child welfare. Though this aspect of her life was rarely publicized, she frequently made generous donations to organizations for disadvantaged youths, and the continuation of these contributions was part of the driving force that prevented her from slowing down. Additionally, when Frances died, Ella felt she had the additional responsibilities of taking care of her sister's family.

In 1987, United States President Ronald Reagan awarded Ella the National Medal of Arts. It was one of her most prized moments. France followed suit several years later, presenting her with their Commander of Arts and Letters award, while Yale, Dartmouth and several other universities bestowed Ella with honorary doctorates.

End of an era

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. The press carried rumors that she would never be able to sing again, but Ella proved them wrong. Despite protests by family and friends, including Norman, Ella returned to the stage and pushed on with an exhaustive schedule.

By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums. In 1991, she gave her final concert at New York's renowned Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she performed there.

As the effects from her diabetes worsened, 76-year-old Ella experienced severe circulatory problems and was forced to have both of her legs amputated below the knees. She never fully recovered from the surgery, and afterward, was rarely able to perform. During this time, Ella enjoyed sitting outside in her backyard, and spending time with Ray, Jr. and her granddaughter Alice.

"I just want to smell the air, listen to the birds and hear Alice laugh," she said.

On June 15, 1996, Ella Fitzgerald died in her Beverly Hills home. Hours later, signs of remembrance began to appear all over the world. A wreath of white flowers stood next to her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a marquee outside the Hollywood Bowl theater read, "Ella, we will miss you."

After a private memorial service, traffic on the freeway was stopped to let her funeral procession pass through. She was laid to rest in the "Sanctuary of the Bells" section of the Sunset Mission Mausoleum at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif.

Source: Official Website

TWO TIME STELLAR AWARD WINNERS-GOSPEL SENSATION, Tags: award winner stellar two time rizen word life production feature rizen

 Rizen is a two-time Stellar Award–winning gospel traditional and contemporary group consisting of sisters Adriann Rayshell Lewis and Aundrea Roeshell Lewis.

Early lifeAundrea and Adriann Lewis are the daughters of Elder Luciose Lewis Jr., who is a pastor of the New Galilee Baptist Church in Saginaw, Michigan and Lady Kayron Lewis. The two Lewis sisters, both with a God-given talent to sing, carefully and lovingly nurtured and developed by their mother, Kayron Lewis, grew up in a home filled with the sounds of gospel greats like Shirley Caesar, Albertina Walker, Dorothy Norwood, and James Cleveland among others with a healthy smattering of R&B as well. Adriann is the eldest sister, known for powerful squalls, high-riffs and vocal range, while Aundrea is known for her powerful yet mellow sound and also her powerful vocal range.


Adriann sang her first solo at age three in her father's church, standing on a wooden box in the pulpit so she could be seen by all. Aundrea spent most of her young life as a member, and later director of the church choir, coming into her own as a soloist in the 1990s with the formation of RiZen.


Adriann, who with her sister is a founding member of RiZen, felt called to a career in music and ministry also at a young age. "I was 12, and singing in a community choir in Saginaw that made an independent record on which I sang solo," she recalls. "I was lying under the piano in the recording studio, sleepy because it was getting pretty late, and when I first heard my voice on the playback over the speakers, I thought, `Wow, that sounds pretty good!' I knew right then that singing was going to be my life."


Like most singers raised in the church, Aundrea and Adriann honed their craft singing in the children’s choir. Their mother, Kayron Lewis, directed all of the church choirs. Aundrea garnered her choir directing skills by following their mother. She says, "We started really early singing in every choir in the church. I was the director. Wherever my mom went and directed, I followed her. I have directed the youth choir, the mass choir and even the male chorus." While Aundrea was learning to direct choirs, Adriann was singing with all of them - even the male chorus. Aundrea laughs, "My sister Adriann starting singing at age three and she sang with every choir in the church, including the male chorus. Picture this little girl up there singing with all those men, that was a sight!" Adriann adds, "I did not want to stop, I demanded to sing… I’ve been singing since I was three years old!"


[edit] Recording careerRiZen - Adriann and Aundrea Lewis, Kanika Trigg, and Ashley Jones - burst onto the national gospel music scene in 2003 proudly and boldly on a foundation of great traditional and contemporary gospel music, rocking their stilettos to a praise beat, wowing audiences and satisfying thirsty souls without ever missing a step. Rizen rolled off an impressive memorable string of hits in their self-titled CD RiZen, including "View The City", "Lift Up Jesus" and "It Will Come To Pass." Their self-titled debut CD was released with much fanfare and praise and won a Stellar Award in 2004 for Best New Artist. Composed of real-life sisters Adriann and Aundrea Lewis, the Stellar Award–winning group was originally formed in 1995 by Adriann as an eight-member praise and worship team at New Galilee Baptist Church in Saginaw, Michigan. The all-girl praise and worship team has evolved from eight members to three and, now, to a duo signed to Verity Records.


The energetic ladies from Saginaw, Michigan delivered 12 songs in their second CD, RiZen2, released in 2005 with flavorful ingredients that make for an undeniable recipe of R&B, gospel and soulful inspirational driven melodies. From the sensational, superb production of "Clap Your Hands" featuring the infamous percussionist Sheila E., and the R&B groove of "Praise Him Just A Little While" to the powerful four words of "Jesus You’re My Light" to straight up churchin’ with "Over There" their signature foot-stomping, hand clapping and harmony bring it all together for one big dish of joyful music.


According to Adriann, RiZen 2 is more of RiZen and has a lot to do with the girls' personal experiences. They also had a lot of input, and it felt more like an original piece from all of them because each lady leads a song on this project. Sometimes called "the Lewis Kids", co-founders Aundrea and Adriann along with their brother Ay’Ron all wrote "Over There" reminiscent of "View the City" off the debut project, while the entire group collaborated on "Hold On". They won a Stellar Award in 2006 for Best Traditional Group/Duo. However, in between that second CD and their latest, Free, the trio became a duo of two tight-knit sisters Adriann and Aundrea Lewis.


The third CD released in 2009, Free, was produced by urban gospel icon and label mate Fred Hammond, as well as Aaron Lindsey, Daniel Weatherspoon and RiZen’s younger brother and musical director, Ay’Ron Lewis. The CD includes the song "Live To Love," written by Fred Hammond, the 1970s throwback, "All I Need", the traditional track "Worked It Out", and there’s the beautiful ballad "Just For Me". Aundrea wrote during a church service at home. The praise and worship ballad, "I Owe It All To You", "My Praise Ridiculous" and the traditional gospel music lover’s delight, "Look Back".


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