Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Freda Payne Celebrates Beloved Jazz Vocalist

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Freda Payne Celebrates Beloved Jazz Vocalist

Article excerpt

Years before she sang about a band of gold, Freda Payne was discovering the golden voice of Ella Fitzgerald.

As a young girl growing up in Detroit in the 1950s, Payne loved listening to such songs as "How High the Moon" and "You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)," delivered in Fitzgerald's unmistakable style.

"Ella's talent was God-given — that you can't deny," said Payne. "You listen to her clarity and her enunciation. The beauty in her voice."

When she started singing in her teens, Payne almost instinctively turned to jazz. "Prior to 1970, I was mainly a cabaret singer," she said. "I sang with big bands. My first label was Impulse, which was strictly a jazz label."

Though she later turned to R&B and pop (and scored a massive hit in 1970 with the song "Band of Gold"), Payne has never forgotten her jazz roots. After Ella Fitzgerald died in 1996, she felt it was time to go back to her initial love.

"When I saw Ella's obituary on the front page of the L.A. Times, I felt that I needed to pay her tribute," Payne recalled.

In the 20-plus years since then, Payne has portrayed Ella in a show called "First Lady of Song," which debuted at Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick in 2004. She has also periodically performed tribute concerts. Payne's next tribute to Fitzgerald will take place January 14, at Centenary Stage Co. in Hackettstown.

The performance kicks off Centenary Stage's annual January Thaw concert series. The program will continue on Sunday, January 21, with swing vocalist Danny Bacher's salutes to Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, and Louis Jordan. The final January Thaw concert will be a performance by the Brazilian group Matuto on Saturday, January 27.

Payne said that she approaches her tribute shows differently from the "First Lady of Song" production (which will next take place later this year in Wilmington, Delaware.

"When I play Ella theatrically, I'm impersonating her," Payne said. "I have to give the illusion of being the person. But when I'm in concert, I don't have to create that illusion. …

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