Ella Fitzgerald was born a century ago today, on April 25, 1917. Her voice was like sunshine, or a glass of champagne. As a woman, she had great warmth and dignity. She was also a friend to Marilyn Monroe, who had been introduced to her work by jazz pianist and arranger Hal Schaefer in 1953. Continue reading
I bought my first Billie Holiday record at sixteen. I must have read about her somewhere, because I’d never heard her sing. But it was love at first listen, and I quickly found another compilation. Neither was considered her best work, but I didn’t care.
Her music stayed with me during a hard time when my family lost our home. Every night that summer, I’d switch off the lights, open the windows and just play her songs.
Later on I heard Lady in Satin, which became my favourite album (next to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On.) Her voice was broken but she still had soul. I also became interested in musician Lester Young, or ‘Prez’, who gave her the name ‘Lady Day’. As a student, I bought a double album of their work together.
I found a second-hand copy of her memoir, Lady Sings the Blues, when I first moved to Brighton. Although not wholly accurate, I still hold it dear. She survived the worst of childhoods, and amid the shadows of racism and addiction, her courage – and wit – never left her.
During my twenties I moved around so much that I wasn’t able to keep my record collection. In any case, Billie’s albums were the most scratched. When I married and had children, I replaced my collection with CDs.
Among the best are Lady Day – the Best of Billie Holiday, covering her early career; In a Soulful Mood; Billie Holiday – The Ultimate Collection, including eight of her later albums; and Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You – Live Radio, TV and Film Recordings.
She has her imitators, but no other singer comes close. For some, she is a tragic figure – but while she may have helped me through some bad times, I don’t see her that way. She was tough, funny and smart, and her music is a celebration of life.
As Paolo Hewitt once wrote, she was ‘lively and joyful, an optimistic woman, in love with love, in love with life, a singer whose innocence and beauty one immediately warms to.’
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Hal Schaefer, Irving Berlin, Jazz, Joe DiMaggio, Lionel Newman, Louella Parsons, Marilyn Monroe, Piano, River of No Return, There's No Business Like Show Business, Wrong Door Raid