Ella Fitzgerald – Just One of Those Things: Tracing the story of Ella Fitzgerald’s life, this documentary film explores how her music became a soundtrack for a tumultuous century.
From a 1934 talent contest at the Apollo theatre in Harlem, the film follows Ella’s extraordinary journey across five decades as she reflects the passions and troubles of the times in her music and her life.
Moving beyond conventional biopic, the film uses images and music to evoke the feel of those times, bringing to life the context of Ella’s unique career, featuring interviews from Smokey Robinson, Jamie Cullum, Tony Bennett, Norma Miller and Laura Mvula.
Ella Fitzgerald – Just One of Those Things
Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) was an American jazz singer, sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, timing, intonation, and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
After a tumultuous adolescence, Fitzgerald found stability in musical success with the Chick Webb Orchestra, performing across the country but most often associated with the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Her rendition of the nursery rhyme “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” helped boost both her and Webb to national fame. After taking over the band when Webb died, Fitzgerald left it behind in 1942 to start her solo career.
Her manager was Moe Gale, co-founder of the Savoy, until she turned the rest of her career over to Norman Granz, who founded Verve Records to produce new records by Fitzgerald. With Verve she recorded some of her more widely noted works, particularly her interpretations of the Great American Songbook.
While Fitzgerald appeared in movies and as a guest on popular television shows in the second half of the twentieth century, her musical collaborations with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and The Ink Spots were some of her most notable acts outside of her solo career. These partnerships produced some of her best-known songs such as “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, “Cheek to Cheek”, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”, and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”.
In 1993, after a career of nearly 60 years, she gave her last public performance. Three years later, she died at the age of 79 after years of declining health. Her accolades included fourteen Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia. She was the daughter of William Fitzgerald and Temperance “Tempie” Henry. Her parents were unmarried but lived together in the East End section of Newport News for at least two and a half years after she was born. In the early 1920s, Fitzgerald’s mother and her new partner, a Portuguese immigrant named Joseph Da Silva, moved to Yonkers, in Westchester County, New York. Her half-sister, Frances Da Silva, was born in 1923. By 1925, Fitzgerald and her family had moved to nearby School Street, a poor Italian area. She began her formal education at the age of six and was an outstanding student, moving through a variety of schools before attending Benjamin Franklin Junior High School in 1929.
Starting in third grade, Ella Fitzgerald loved dancing and admired Earl Snakehips Tucker. She performed for her peers on the way to school and at lunchtime. She and her family were Methodists and were active in the Bethany African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she attended worship services, Bible study, and Sunday school. The church provided Fitzgerald with her earliest experiences in music.
Fitzgerald listened to jazz recordings by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and The Boswell Sisters. She loved the Boswell Sisters’ lead singer Connee Boswell, later saying, “My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it…I tried so hard to sound just like her.”
In 1932, when Ella Fitzgerald was fifteen, her mother died from injuries sustained in a car accident. Her stepfather took care of her until April 1933 when she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. This seemingly swift change in her circumstances, reinforced by what Fitzgerald biographer Stuart Nicholson describes as rumors of “ill treatment” by her stepfather, leaves him to speculate that Da Silva might have abused her.