Ella Fitzgerald

By: Sarah Weinman
April 25, 2010

In three- to five-minute bursts, the rat-a-tat consonants and sweet glissandi that emerged from ELLA FITZGERALD’s (1917-1996) throat sucked listeners of all ages and many generations into her voluptuous vocal vortex. Nursery rhymes like “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” turned into symphonic displays of tonal clusters, while Broadway standards like “Oh, Lady Be Good” leaped and bounded out of Tin Pan Alley, one impossible scat-laden phrase at a time. What linked Ella’s hard bebop style of the ’40s with the smoother, Nelson Riddle-influenced albums of Great American composers from the ’50s onward was an impeccable sense of rhythm — always knowing when the downbeat would strike even if her well-placed note came just before or after. Theater critic turned op-ed columnist Frank Rich was correct to note she “was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians.” But that cultural fusion would not have been possible without Ella’s fusion of honey-tinged voice and sharp syncopation.


Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday.

READ MORE about the New Gods generation.

READ MORE HiLo Hero shout-outs.

SUBSCRIBE to HiLo Hero updates via Facebook.

SHARE this post, by clicking on the toolbar below.


HiLo Heroes, Jazz

What do you think?

  1. Now I’m confused–I always thought of Ella as the best argument for the middlebrow. Along with Sinatra, she pretty much defined mid-century American popular song, and held Rock n’ Roll at bay for a decade.

Comments are closed.