New Book Explores Ella Fitzgerald's Life and Legacy

Judith Tick's book "Becoming Ella Fitzgerald" explores the life and legacy of the legendary jazz singer, delving into her artistry, personality, and experiences as a black female performer in the mid-20th century. The book provides a comprehensive account of Fitzgerald's career, from her breakthrough years to international superstardom, and sheds light on her inner life and personal experiences.

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Nitish Verma
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New Book Explores Ella Fitzgerald's Life and Legacy

New Book Explores Ella Fitzgerald's Life and Legacy

Judith Tick's new book "Becoming Ella Fitzgerald": The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song" delves into the life and legacy of the legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. The book, released in 2024, aims to provide a comprehensive account of Fitzgerald's artistry, personality, and experiences as a black female performer in the mid-20th century, an era fraught with bigotry and challenges.

Ella Fitzgerald, born in 1917 in Newport News, Virginia, rose to fame with her unique, sunny voice that could, as Stevie Wonder noted in 1976, "convert any lyric into an evocation of total bliss." Despite a troubled childhood and her parents separating shortly after her birth, Fitzgerald went on to become a world-renowned jazz singer, recording definitive renditions of essential standards like Rodgers and Hart's "Manhattan" and Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies."

Throughout her six-decade career, Fitzgerald earned 14 Grammy Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. However, her inner life and personal experiences remained largely a mystery to most who knew her due to her extreme shyness. Tick's book aims to shed light on these aspects of Fitzgerald's life.

Tick, a professor emerita of music history at Northeastern University, divides the book into sections tracing Fitzgerald's career from her breakthrough years with bandleader Chick Webb in the 1930s to her international superstardom in the 1950s and 1960s. The book is at its most compelling when Tick deconstructs Fitzgerald's most significant recordings, such as "Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book" from 1956, a landmark album in American pop.

Despite thorough research, Tick struggles at times to reveal Fitzgerald's inner life, providing a litany of tour dates, album track listings, and chart placements that become exhausting and reveal little substantial about the singer. Nevertheless, the book offers fascinating insights, such as Tick's observation that Fitzgerald's 1934 performance at the Apollo Theater marked a turning point, as she realized the applause of an audience granted her a feeling of love and acceptance that eluded her at home.

Ella Fitzgerald's legacy extends far beyond her music. She remains an iconic figure, the First Lady of Song, whose impact on American music continues to inspire new generations of musicians and music lovers. While Tick's book may not fully unravel the enigma of Fitzgerald's inner world, it provides a detailed and ambitious exploration of her life, artistry, and the challenges she faced as a black female performer in the mid-20th century.

Key Takeaways

  • Judith Tick's book "Becoming Ella Fitzgerald" explores the life and legacy of the jazz legend.
  • Ella Fitzgerald rose to fame with her unique voice, despite a troubled childhood and racism.
  • Fitzgerald earned 14 Grammy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom during her 6-decade career.
  • Tick's book sheds light on Fitzgerald's personal experiences, including her shyness and struggles as a black female performer.
  • Fitzgerald's legacy extends beyond her music, inspiring new generations of musicians and music lovers.