[78-L] Young Ella

Mark Bardenwerper citrogsa at charter.net
Sat Oct 12 20:22:20 PDT 2013

I just came upon a copy of the 1951 Decca 10" 33 RPM album, "Ella Sings 
Gershwin." The notes on the back pertaining to her early years are thus, 
in part:

"...Her parents were extremely poor and when they died, the very young 
Ela (sic) was sent to a New York orphanage. It was while Ella was in the 
orphanage that her talent for singing first became apparent. Life in 
such an institution scarcely agreed with her, and at sixteen she left 
the home.
Once on her own, she began making the rounds of amateur night contests 
which were popular at that time. Developing an act of singing and 
dancing, she toured New York, going unsuccessfully from one contest to 
another. Finally she made an appearance at the Harlem Opera House. The 
entry card read; 'Ella Fitzgerald, Song And Dance.' With her gangling 
awkward appearance and unpolished voice, she made a very unfavorable 
impression, which was capped by a stage fright so terrific that her knee 
refused to obey her and she was unable to dance a step. The audience 
reacted as such an audience will, and the fateful gong sounded that 
might have been the final note of her swan song. However, it was not to 
be. Even as cold disappointment chilled Ella's dreams, a crack 
professional musician in the audience tensed with sudden excitement. It 
was the late, unforgotten Chick Webb, who had spotted the real thing 
under the surface amateurishness of the frightened young girl. Chick was 
greatly impressed with the potentialities that he alone was able to see 
in Ella and offered her a job with his band. He and Mrs. Webb also 
adopted the young orphan and gave her a real home. If she thought that 
at last she would be able to sing, she was disappointed, for Ella was 
not allowed to appear professionally for a long time to come.
Chick patiently spent many, many months teaching her how to make the 
most of her voice, how to perfect her distinctive style, how to walk, 
and how to develop poise. He taught her all the tricks at his command, 
and she was an apt pupil. For two years she toured with the band and 
didn't sing in public once. Chick counselled (sic) her: 'Don't come up 
like a shooting star and drop just as fast. Take your time. Build.' Then 
the time came when he thought Ella was ready.
His first move was to have her record with the band - and the records 
were all sensational sellers. The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem witness her 
first professional appearance, and she clicked..."

This version of her career launch varies radically from the one in 
  Was she adopted? Did she earn $50 or did she flop? If not, I wonder 
how such a stretch of truth could have made an album note while she was 
in her prime and could have easily made certain it was factual.

Mark L. Bardenwerper, Sr.

Technology...thoughtfully, responsibly.

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