I have been an Ella Fitzgerald fan for decades. To my mind, there are few pleasures greater than hearing Ella sing one of the classics from the heyday of American popular music. I was therefore delighted to see the graceful homage the guys at Power Line paid to her today, the anniversary of her birth. One of the things the post tries to do is get to the essence of what made her special. They quote a reader who said of her singing:
She sings the song so beautifully we naturally recognize the beauty of the singer as well. She doesn’t have to work to be noticed; she gives no sign she cares about that. She glories in the music, and that becomes her glory.
That’s true, but a little too abstract for me. I can be very concrete about such things as her phrasing, diction, and spot-on-tunefulness, but those are a little too cold for me. When it comes right down to it, what I adore about Ella’s singing is how effortless it feels. You never hear the woman sweat a song. She just opens her mouth and this glorious sound flows out. No Mariah Carey ululating, no Kurt Cobain screeching, no Whitney Houston shrieking. There’s a complete absence of breathiness, squeaks or whining. It’s just this incredible flow of pure voice, whether she’s crooning a ballad or swinging some jazz. I know of only two other singers who have that relaxed virtuoso quality: Bing Crosby and Doris Day. Whether you like them or not, they too seemed like vessels through which the music flowed, rather than laboring engines forcing out sound.
Here’s a great recording of Ella, which displays every one of those vocal gifts.