After she turned 20 years old, Ella Fitzgeral...

ONE WEEK

April 28, 1993

ONE WEEK after she turned 20 years old, Ella Fitzgeral recorded a silly little nursery rhyme ditty titled "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."

That was 55 years ago. The record sold more than a million copies. Ella, who recently celebrated her 75th birthday, has never had another million-selling single. But that hardly meant her life and career were downhill after that. (Which does happen in show biz.) She just kept getting better.

Soon, in the view of almost every pop music critic and historian, she was the best at what she did, which is sing jazz and other "popular" music.

* * *

Ella's career should have a special fascination for the 1990s' aging Baby-Boomers, who were born after she first became famous, and who did not become interested in her kind of music till recently.

That is because she really hit her stride when she was at that same point in her life at which the Baby Boomers now find themselves. In 1956, 18 years after "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," when she was 38, Ella began recording her "songbook" albums.

For the next eight years she recorded anthologies of the greatest American songwriters.

She did something many, perhaps most, famous singers would never do. She sang the songs exactly as written.

She was the entertainer-as-historian, or perhaps entertainer-as-preservationist.

Because of those recordings, a thousand years from now any humans who are interested will be able to hear the words and music of Cole Porter, of Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart, of Irving Berlin, of Duke Ellington, of Harold Arlen, of George and Ira Gershwin, of Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer as their authors meant them to be heard, without a star trying to impose her or his personality on them.

And, of course, they will also hear one of the great musical instruments of the 20th century -- Ella Fitzgerald's voice.

Some critics believe that because they were done so honestly, so un-selfishly, so superbly, and because they came when they did -- a time when rock was beginning to redefine American popular music, obliterating what had come before -- the songbooks not only rescued the popular American tunes of the 1920s, '30s and '40s, but also transformed what then were only old standards into what are now regarded as classics.

* * *

Ella Fitzgerald at her best, technically, may have been the Ella of scat, but Ella Fitzgerald at her most enduring was the Ella of

ballads.

To re-work an ancient quote, "When Ella sang jazz, people said, 'How well she sings,' but when Ella sang love songs, people fell in love."

As long as men and women fall in love, they will listen to Ella's songbooks, and as long as Ella's recordings exist, men and women will fall in love.

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