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Anecdotes: Ella Fitzgerald

First lady of song

For those new to my blog, I was an advertising and corporate photographer for almost fifty years, and now being semi-retired I teach an online class with the BPSOP, and I also conduct my personal “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” around our planet.

When you’ve been shooting as long as I have, fifty years and counting,  one can’t help but to acquire a certain amount of stories along the way. Some funny then and now, and some only funny now.

Thinking back, the not so funny stories usually came from bad decisions made by one person or another. Having said that, I’ve found that the best stories almost always come from said bad decisions. This story didn’t follow that guideline, in fact it’s one of my all time best memories.

I was hired by a graphic design firm to shoot an annual report for a company that made joint replacements. The idea was to shoot famous celebrities or sports heroes that had a replacement of some kind, and Ella Fitzgerald was one that had a hip replacement.

For those of you too young to remember, Ella was an American Jazz singer who was referred to as the “first lady of song”. For more than a half a century Ella was the most popular jazz singer in the US, winning thirteen Grammy awards and selling forty million albums.

My assistant and I, along with the designer, flew out to LA and met Ella at her home in Beverly Hills. Her publicist informed us that Ella wanted to be photographed in her backyard. I went outside to scout for a suitable spot to photograph her. Afterwards we waiting on a couch in her formal living room for her to appear, and after thirty minutes Ella finally came down the long stairway that led into the large room where we were sitting.

I had only known her as a rather large woman that could belt out a song to very large audiences; from Carnegie Hall to Las Vegas. When I first saw her coming down I had no idea that it was Ella. She was very thin, but still looked great…and healthy.

We went out to her backyard and after fifteen minutes I felt I had captured her and told her so. Well, that seemed to go over big as she invited us for breakfast. Well I have to tell you that when she personally started cooking for us I couldn’t believe it; eggs, bacon, toast, juice, and coffee.

After we all cleared and washed the dishes, Ella took me into her special room where she had all her Grammys, awards, posters, and walls of framed gold records.

One poster stood out to me in particular. It was of Ella appearing at a famous jazz club, and she had been drawn and signed by Picasso. It was amazing that it looked like he had, in a matter of seconds, represented Ella’s essence with just a few scribbles; it was Ella Fitzgerald and it was awesome!!

A few weeks later Ella’s assistant called me and said that Ella loved the portrait and could she purchase one for her room. I thanked her and said that I would be willing to trade…a framed portrait for one of those posters.

I couldn’t believe it! She said yes, and now I have a fantastic poster signed by Picasso and Ella on my wall.

This February in conjunction with the Santa Fe Workshops, I’ll be returning to Cuba for the fourth time. My next springtime workshop will Berlin next May; an incredibly beautiful city.


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