Smorgasbord Music Column 2022 – William Price King meets the Jazz Icons – Ella Fitzgerald – The Early Years

It is eight years since William Price King joined Smorgasbord to share music across the genres. It is six years since we have featured the icons and delighted to showcase them again in 2022.

We continue with the Jazz Icons with the First Lady of Song... Ella Fitzgerald. An incredible talent and listening to her voice makes me wish that I could have heard her singing live. I will hand you over to William Price King to share the first part of his tribute to this amazing artist.

A young Fitzgerald, photographed by Carl Van Vechtan in 1940

Ella Jane Fitzgerald would become The First Lady of Song and was one of the most popular American Jazz singers for over 60 years. During her career she won 13 Grammy awards and sold 40 million copies of her over 70 Albums. She was also was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush.

Her greatest hits include ‘Let’s Fall In Love’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, ‘Every time We Say Goodbye’ and ‘Summertime’. Her versatility and range enabled her to sing everything from soulful ballads through to the most popular jazz standards of the day. She worked with all the big names in the business including Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme. She travelled the world performing to packed houses and the audiences loved her.

Here is her wonderful performance of ‘Summertime’.…by George Gershwin and lyrics by Dubose Heyward from the 1935 hit show ‘Porky and Bess’ Ella Fitzgerald – Topic

Her start in life was tough but Ella would later say that she appreciated how much the difficult times had matured her and how the memories helped her build the emotion into her performances. She also understood what it was like to face challenges and setbacks in life and she treasured her success all the more for them.

Her vocal range spanned three octaves (D♭3 to D♭6). Often referred to as the First Lady of Song, the Queen of Jazz and Lady Ella, she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

Her Early Years.

Ella was born in Newport News, Virginia on April 25th 1917 to William and Temperance (Tempie) but they split up shortly after Ella was born. Tempie and Ella moved to Yonkers, New York and Tempie moved in with Joseph Da Silva father to Ella’s half-sister Frances who was born in 1923. Jo supported the family by digging ditches and was a part-time chauffeur, while Ella’s mother Tempie worked in a Laundromat and restaurants. As she grew older Ella would take on small jobs to add to the family’s upkeep. Times were tough. It was the height of the prohibition and the numbers racket business and Ella spent some time as a runner for some of the local gamblers.

There was however time for social activities and Ella and her friends spent time singing and dancing and would head into Harlem to watch the variety acts at the Apollo Theatre.

According to Ella’s biography on her official website her mother, Tempie died from serious injuries that she received in a car accident in 1932 when Ella was just 15. Ella went to live with Tempie’s sister Virginia and she was joined shortly afterwards by Frances when Joe suffered a fatal heart attack.

This was not a happy time for the young Ella and schooling took a back seat as she began to get into trouble with the police. Eventually she was sent to reform school which was unbearable, especially as she suffered beatings at the hands of the caretakers. Still only 15 she escaped and found herself on the streets along with thousands of others displaced by the Great Depression.

It was not until 1934 when 17 year old Ella’s luck would change. Her name was pulled out of a draw at the Apollo and she won the chance to compete on Amateur Night. Her first thought was to dance for the audience but having seen the Edwards Sisters, Ruth and Louise, considered the fastest tap dancing team in the business, she decided she could not compete and would sing instead.

The crowd was rowdy and the young Ella stood scared and ‘unpolished’ before them on stage. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy,” a song she knew well as it was one of her mother’s favourites. As she began to sing the audience quieted down and at the end of her performance demanded an encore. She obliged and sang the flip side of the Boswell Sister’s record, “The Object of My Affections.” She won the first prize of $25.

Ella was not confident away from the stage but once in the spotlights she came alive.. She was to say “Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience,” Ella said. “I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.”

The musicians in the band that night were impressed with Ella and her singing voice. One of these was saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter. He knew talent when he heard it and he began to mentor Ella and introduce her around contacts in the music business. They would maintain that friendship and working relationship their entire lives.

Here is Ella singing ‘I’ll Chase the Blues Away’ with Chick Webb in 1935.

With the backing of Benny and her growing audience of fans, Ella began entering and winning every available talent show in town. In January 1935 she won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House and there she met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. Although he already had a male singer he gave Ella the chance to test with the band at a dance at Yale University… It was a tough crowd by in her usual style Ella won their hearts and Chick hired her to travel with the band for $12.50 a week.

Ella was on her way… time we will look at the 40s as she sang her way into the hearts of a nation.

Additional Sources
Ella Fitzgerald

I hope you have enjoyed this tribute to one of the icons of jazz and will join us again next week for the second part of the Ella Fitzgerald Story.

William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.

His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.

While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.

Blog– IMPROVISATION William Price King on Tumblr – Buy William’s music: William Price King iTunes – FacebookWilliam Price King – Twitter@wpkofficial
Regular Venue – Cave Wilson


Thank you for dropping and as always William would love to receive your feedback… thanks Sally.

40 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Music Column 2022 – William Price King meets the Jazz Icons – Ella Fitzgerald – The Early Years

  1. Ella has always been a favourite of mine but I know little about her background and upbringing…Looking forward to reading about Ella’s story.I love this series Hugs x

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine Weekly Round Up – 11th – 17th April 2022 – Twitter fakes, Hits 1992, Ella Fitzgerald, #Caribbean, Vitamin C, Stories, Poetry, Reviews, Health and Funnies | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  3. Just as well the tap dancing Edwards were so good – though I suspect her singing talent would have come to the fore regardless. I’m really looking forward to this series. I’ve already listened to Summertime twice and now I’m going to give it a third go. xx

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.