Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz

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9780684196992: Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz

The life story of undisputed First Lady of Jazz

The life of the very private and media-shy Ella Fitzgerald has long been shrouded in a mixture of half-truths and fiction. What emerges in Stuart Nicholson's groundbreaking biography -- the first in more than a decade -- is the remarkable and triumphant story of a poor black girl's determination to realize the American Dream in the face of constant racial and sexual prejudice. Now nearly eighty years old, Ella Fitzgerald is the definition of jazz singer to millions around the world, and acclaimed as one of the greatest of all jazz musicians.

This is the fullest-ever account of Ella's life, and Stuart Nicholson draws almost exclusively on fresh research and on interviews with many of Ella's friends and colleagues who have not cooperated with other writers, including an interview with Norman Granz, Ella's longtime manager and the producer behind her legendary Songbook series. Within two years of her professional debut as a gauche sixteen-year-old, Ella had achieved stardom with a million-selling record. By the 1950s, she was feted by the rich and famous throughout the world and collaborating with all the greatest artists in jazz and popular music, from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Yet, as Stuart Nicholson shows, while hailed abroad as a cultural ambassador for her country, she had to endure vicious racism at home, including a sensational arrest scandal on trumped-up charges in the Deep South.

Nicholson examines the key influence upon Ella of bandleader Chick Webb, and provides the first in-depth analysis of Webb's career. He also considers Ella's complex relationship with Norman Granz, and traces her unhappy love life, involving two failed marriages and a series of casual affairs. But above all Nicholson celebrates Ella's music, live and on record, highlighting her finest work and considering her alongside her great rival and fellow icon, Billie Holiday.

Supplemented by an authoritative discography by noted jazz historian Phil Schaap and illustrated with many unknown photographs, Ella Fitzgerald offers a rich and revealing portrait of one of the most popular American singers of the century, and the only artist in jazz history whose work spans seven decades.

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Review:

Ella Fitzgerald, who died in 1996, came from a poverty-stricken background. She was abandoned by her father, possibly abused by her stepfather and lived on the streets as a teenager. As a club singer she had to contend with racism, sexism and advances from predatory men. But in the 1950s, just when Billie Holiday, from a similar background, was falling toward drug addiction and a sordid death, Fitzgerald escaped the seeming inevitability of that fate. Her songbook albums relaunched her career in a new direction, and she became a beloved figure in American jazz, known for her musical precision and luminous clarity. This biography offers an assessment of the emotional strength apparent in both her life and music.

About the Author:

Stuart Nicholson is a celebrated jazz writer. He is the author of several award-winning books, including a biography of Billie Holiday and a history of Jazz-Rock. He has contributed to major newspapers, from the New York Times to the Manchester Guarding , and major jazz publications including Downbeat 0 and Jazz Times . He lives in Woodlands St.-Mary, Berkshire, England.

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