Clap Hands, Here Comes Ella

Photo: William Gottlieb

When I think of Ella Fitzgerald, who would have turned 101 today, I always flash on this image of her singing at The Downbeat in a fabulous coconut cake hat, Dizzy Gillespie visibly swooning by her side. Really, we’re all Dizzy when it comes to Ella. Hard-working and ever-radiant, she was a true Taurus goddess who channeled Venus at her most luscious and life-bearing. As a young person, I never understood this sign but now I relish its ambassadors, Ella especially, like sun-warmed soil between my toes.

She never wallowed in despair no matter how rough her life could be–and reports suggest it could be very, very rough. Instead, she dove into those dark places and made a conscious decision to bring us all back up with her, channeling her hard times only to deepen the joy that rang in her every song, even the blue ones.

I never saw her live but the afternoon she died, I was playing with my goddaughters, then 10 and 6, and all they wanted to do was draw at the dining table while her albums played on the turntable. All day we marveled over that swell, that great, generous lilt. When we saw the news she’d died during our listening marathon, none of us were surprised. With Ella, there were never “too many notes.” Her spirit knew no bounds.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy