- Frank Rich on the talent of Ella Fitzgerald.
Tempie died in 1932, leaving her 15-year-old daughter an orphan during the Great Depression, when America herself faced the hardest economic times in her history. Ella was taken in by an aunt who lived in Harlem, but her grades in school suffered and she soon dropped out of school altogether. She worked as a lookout in a bordello and as a courier for a local Mafia numbers-runner. Not surprisingly, this got her into trouble with the law. She was placed in Riverdale Colored Orphan Asylum but was moved from there to a tough reformatory near Albany called the New York State Training School for Girls. She ran from that place, and was for a time homeless.
The Young Ella Makes Her Debut and Makes a Legendary Career
"My Funny Valentine", to whimsical songs like "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" , but also to an odd song like "Mack the Knife" . Her intonation was perfect, and her vocal range was quite large: spanning three octaves(D♭3 to D♭6) She was famous for her purity of tone, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her "scat" singing, which I recall her really highlighting in the tune "How High the Moon". She was always a joy to listen to, and as Frank Rich said she always filled her music with energy! I considered myself very lucky to have heard her do her scat* in person!!
* = Here's an absolutely KILLER example of Ella doing "scat" with the incomparable Mel Torme'!!
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