Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz

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Da Capo Press, 1994 - Biography & Autobiography - 334 pages
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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 marriagesand 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 P

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Ella Fitzgerald: a biography of the first lady of jazz

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Ella Fitzgerald's hit song "A-Tisket, A-Tasket'' grabbed national attention in 1938, and over the next three decades she won much popular and critical acclaim. Born in poverty, she rose to perform at ... Read full review

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This is quite simply the definitive biography of Ella Fitzgerald. I have every book written on Ella and unlike all the others which just reprint second hand material, inaccuracies and all, Nicholson's book is scrupulously researched, going back to primary sources and interviewing people who actually knew her.
The Kirkus review above is incorrect to say the book is "too often a pedestrian catalogue of dates, places, and band personnel". The facts of Ella's professional life are balanced by the human element including the scandals that Ella's management had tried to hide. It was Nicholson who unearthed that Ella was born illegitimately, lived on the streets in her early years and details for the first time the love affairs she had.
The book also has the most complete discography of Ella's recordings in print today. It shows how a shocking amount of her recordings remain unreleased because it is easier for the record company to keep reissuing old material.
Nicholson, along with others who knew Ella, was a member of the now defunct Ella Fitzgerald Music Appreciation Society,of which I was a co-founder and U.K. Secretary. Stuart was able to show me some of his research including proof of her real age which had been incorrectly reported for 76 years!
The one criticism I have of this book is that it is written by a jazz aficionado so there is quite unfair criticism of Buddy Bregman's superb arrangements of the Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart albums. But this is the only blemish in a book that is the first biography to buy of Ella before you even think about any others, because it is the only one with the facts.

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About the author (1994)

Stuart Nicholson's books include Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence (also available from Da Capo /Perseus Books Group) and Billie Holiday. He lives in England.

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