Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Biography

Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Biography

Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Biography

Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Biography


Stuart Nicholson's biography of Ella Fitzgerald is considered a classic in jazz literature. Drawing on original documents, interviews, and new information, Nicholson draws a complete picture of Fitzgerald's professional and personal life. Fitzgerald rose from being a pop singer with chart-novelty hits in the late '30s to become a bandleader and then one of the greatest interpreters of American popular song. Along with Billie Holiday, she virtually defined the female voice in jazz, and countless others followed in her wake and acknowledged her enormous influence. Also includes two 8-page inserts.


Legends are lies that become history in the end.


THEY SAY THAT WHEN New York taxi drivers know your name, you’ve made it. Well, New York taxi drivers, so I’m told, have known the name Ella Fitzgerald since the early 1940s. By the 1990s, these most hard-boiled of men and women speak of her with genuine affection. But it isn’t only the New York taxi drivers; Americans in general regard Ella with the kind of affection that the British reserve for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

The extent of this affection gradually revealed itself to me while I was in the United States researching this book, and it came, I must confess, as a surprise. It crossed over the arbitrary boundaries imposed by age and ethnicity. Ella’s popularity was such that it seemed to transcend categories. She was beyond jazz, she was beyond popular music, yet paradoxically she remained limited by them, as much through our received notions of one or the other as through the way she applied her great talent to both.

Yet Ella’s whole career has been full of paradoxes, some almost hidden from view, some not, as I discovered when I became progressively more involved in this project. I quickly realized it was going to be very different from what I had imagined it would be. Quite apart from anything else, I found I had to delve into much more material than I had previously envisaged. While there was plenty that had been written about Ella, there was also plenty that I discovered was patently incorrect. And as I solved one enigma, there always seemed to be another to take its place, like a nest of Russian dolls. As my knowledge of Ella’s story grew, it gradually began to dawn on me that I was in the midst of trying to strip away the myths that made the legend.

There were vast inconsistencies about her early years, for example. Since Ella has steadfastly refused to talk in anything but the most superficial terms about her childhood and the time that preceded her . . .

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