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Ella Fitzgerald: 1917-1996
Ella Fitzgerald: 1917-1996
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by Richard Rossiter

I first discovered Ella
in a Public Library...

It was in a little town in Massachussetts when I was around fourteen years old. I don't know what it was then that attracted me to her voice, but it was like heaven to me. That was around 1969 or 1970. The rest is history, I now own almost every single vinyl album, original, and compact disc that was ever released.
spaceThe day I heard the news (someone in the office mentioned it), I suddenly felt stunned and disoriented. I sat in my office just staring at the autographed picture that Ella had sent to me as a result of a letter I had sent to her back in the 80's. I could not think straight. I told my secretary that I was leaving for the day (being the CEO I could do that ;-). I did not return to work for three days. For three days I played Ella records. For three days I reminisced about what Ella meant to me, and I wondered if the world would realize the profound loss it had just suffered.

I was fortunate enough to have seen one of Ella's last concerts at the Circle Star Theatre in California. It was an exhilarating evening for me. I had seats close to the stage, and like a schoolboy stood near the dressing room entrance to be closer to the legend when she emerged. The theatre was packed to capacity: it was SRO. Ella emerged, hobbling with crutches, in a light blue dress, and a cast on her foot. The crowd rose in unison, as we were all watching the entrance ramp together. The roar was incredible. Ella was so sweet. In all those years, and all those performances, she still couldn't believe the response of the crowd. Even if she did believe it, she graciously gave her audience the satisfaction that we needed. It made us all feel wonderful that we somehow, each personally, had an effect on a legend.
spaceIn all the concerts, and all of the celebrities I have seen perform, from Leonard Bernstein, Judy Garland, Elvis, Barbra Streisand, and Sammy Davis Jr., I have never seen an audience react the way they did when Miss Ella entered the room. Most of the people stood the entire performance. Song after gorgeous song, we were all sponges soaking in the notes as Miss Ella delivered them in to the audience. I have never seen such simultaneous and instantaneous standing ovations as I had that night. The air was electric. When Ella spoke to the audience (which was rare), you could hear the person next to you breathing.

When Ella finished her first set and went back to the dressing room everyone assumed that it was so Miss Fitzgerald could rest.

Not true ... She went for a wardbrobe change. When she came out you could hear people commenting that they couldn't believe she went for a wardrobe change. Now that's a professional. But it was more than that, it said something about Ella that confirmed what we had always thought...she was genuine, and brother, she sure loved her fans.
spaceOvation after ovation, song after song, request after request...the night went all too fast. When it was over, I stood near the ramp where Ella would enter her dressing room at the Circle Star Theatre (for the last time), and I was rewarded when Ella passed by. I was standing behind some children, and Ella looked at me ... then she stretched her hand out and gently shook my fingers. I will never forget that moment, because it was not her touch, but I was close enough to look into her eyes ... wow ... it was all there ... Louis, Chick, Duke, Basie, the Apollo, it was all there. There was so much wisdom in those eyes, so much experience, and so much kindness and thankfulness ...

But alas, Ella knew...

She knew these were her last moments to
be near those she loved the most ... her fans.

Well, I am back to work now, and I have two pictures of Ella in my office. On my way to work this morning the local jazz station was playing A-Tisket-A-Tasket and I still feel the loss in the pit of my stomach, but I am so thankful that for one brief moment in time Ella and I looked at each other and spoke the language of love and admiration through our eyes. As I pulled into the parking lot I sat there with the car running until the song finished. As I shut the car off I just thought to myself that you just have to know...

 Lady Ella has finally found
 her Yellow Basket.

spaceRichard Rossiter

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