Friday, January 25, 2013

Angelic voices, #1: Ella sings "Summertime"

On the rare occasions I watch tv, I gravitate toward PBS. Over the years, the local affiliate has run dozens of documentaries about musicians who mattered, including Ella Fitzgerald.

I came to the Ella Fitzgerald documentary from a place of ignorance, as I had a limited familiarity with her catalog. Intuitively I  imagined the First Lady of Song as light (maybe even happy), based on the finger-snapping, swing jazz I associated her with.

That night I discovered the pain and sadness in Ella Fitzgerald's life, from a childhood of privation to homelessness, a wrenching divorce, and an offstage restlessness that kept her on the road until her health would no longer allow it.

The undertow of suffering dovetailed with the most powerful moment of the documentary, the version of "Summertime" below. This performance lay buried in my soul for years until I found it on YouTube recently. It's exquisite on many levels:  the black and white stock; the close-ups (including the single bead of sweat rolling down Ella's cheek); and the simple, understated arrangement, which makes this rendition all about the voice, and gives Lady Ella the space to shine.    

With this post, I'm inaugurating the "angelic voices" series in honor of vocalists who have enriched my life. Suggestions for future posts are welcome.

(Click on box in lower right for full screen)

*Click here for "Angelic voices, #2: Marvin Gaye sings 'The Star-Spangled Banner'"

and here for "Angelic voices, #3:  Janis Joplin sings 'Cry Baby'"


  1. Thank you for this blog and for the clips of Marvin Gaye and Ella Fitzgerald.

  2. Al Green, Magic Sam, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, Bill Withers . . .