Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th Birthday!

April 14, 2017

George Gershwin Gershwin Recordings Gershwin Songs Ira Gershwin

On April 25, 2017, the musical world will pay tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song, whose six-decade career included an extensive repertoire of songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Her first commercial recording from their catalogue was in 1938, when a 78 rpm disc of “I Was Doing All Right” – a just-released song from The Goldwyn Follies – was released by Decca Records under the name of drummer Chick Webb.

Gershwin songs continued to play a significant role in Fitzgerald’s recording and concert repertoire after she became a solo artist. In 1950, now established as one of the premiere jazz singers of the age, she recorded an entire album of the brothers’ songs – Ella Sings Gershwin (Decca) – with pianist Ellis Larkins. Seven years later, Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded excerpts from Porgy and Bess for Norman Granz’s Verve label. Mack The Knife: Ella in Berlin, the singer’s Grammy Award-winning Verve LP from 1960, included three Gershwin songs (later expanded to four for the 1993 compact disc reissue), and one of her final recordings – 1983’s Nice Work If You Can Get It (Pablo) – was yet another all-Gershwin disc, this time with pianist André Previn.

But Ella’s most-celebrated Gershwin project was recorded in 1959. The Verve album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book was a lavish five-album set, arranged by Nelson Riddle, that became the crowning achievement of the singer’s series of albums celebrating the composers and lyricists who gave us the Great American Songbook. Now, in celebration of Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday, Verve Records and the Universal Music Group have reissued the Gershwin Song Book in a new, remastered, limited edition vinyl box set. A wonderful promotional video for the release can be seen on YouTube.

Two museum exhibitions on opposite coasts of the United States celebrate other aspects of Ella’s long career. The First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100 opened on April 1 at the National Museum of American History on the mall in Washington DC, while the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles hosts Ella at 100: Celebrating the Artistry of Ella Fitzgerald beginning on April 25.

To read more about Ella Fitzgerald and discover additional events taking place during the centennial celebration, visit her official website.

Ten audio excerpts of Ella singing songs by the Gershwins can be found on our website. Just click on MUSIC SEARCH on the home page and type “Ella Fitzgerald” into the box.

— Michael Owen