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Jazz Music

Ella Fitzgerald - Cry me a river

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Fitzgerald's clear, resonant voice was always note-perfect. She did not convey painful or bitter emotions well--a sunniness shone through her interpretations of even the most somber songs--but she more than made up for this with her innovative and facile approach to rhythm. Jazz critic Whitney Balliett observed in the New Yorker that "what had happened in the Webb days was that the drummer had, through the sheer hypnotic power of his playing, unwittingly and permanently shaped her style: she still loves rhythm singing. For that reason, her lyrics, though carefully articulated, convey rhythm, not meaning and emotion."

Critics and others who knew Ella Fitzgerald personally have commented on her capacity for self-doubt. Even with all of the acclaim that was lavished upon her, she was still prone to worry about how others felt about her singing. In her 1965 Down Beat interview, Fitzgerald attributed this to the fragile quality of fame: "The music business is so funny. You hear somebody this year, and next year nothing happens.... {W}hen you start out it's a pleasure, but later on it becomes your livelihood. For anyone who loves music as much as I do, it's a part of you, and you don't want to ever feel defeated."

The 1950s and '60s proved to be a time of critical and commercial success for Fitzgerald. She even earned the moniker "First Lady of Song" for her mainstream popularity and unparalleled vocal talents. Her unique ability to mimicking instrumental sounds helped popularize the vocal improvisation of "scatting" which became her signature technique.

In 1955, Fitzgerald began recording for Granz's newly created Verve Records. She made some of her most popular albums for Verve, starting out with 1956's Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book. At the very first Grammy Awards in 1958, Fitzgerald picked up her first two Grammys—and made history as the first African-American woman to win a Grammy—for best individual jazz performance and best female vocal performance, respectively, for the two songbook projects Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book and Ella Fitagerald Sings the Irving Berlin Song Book; she worked directly with Ellington on the former album.

A truly collaborative soul, Fitzgerald produced great recordings with such artists as Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. She also performed several times with Frank Sinatra over the years as well. In 1960, Fitzgerald actually broke into the pop charts with her rendition of "Mack the Knife." She was still going strong well into the '70s, playing concerts across the globe. One especially memorable concert series from this time was a two-week engagement in New York City in 1974 with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie.

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