Grammy winner Patti Austin honors The First Lady of Song with ‘Ella at 100’
Deer Valley Music Festival Friday
July 3, 2017
American music lost a legend on June 15, 1996. That's the day Ella Fitzgerald — known as Lady Ella, the First Lady of Song and The Queen of Jazz — passed away from complications due to diabetes.
She was 79.
Throughout her 50-year music career, Fitzgerald worked with the Ink Spots, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
She became known for her renditions of a list of songs that included "Dream a Little Dream of Me," "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and "Cheek to Cheek."
Fitzgerald is also known for the hits, "The Man I Love," "Miss Otis Regrets" and "How High the Moon."
The Queen of Jazz won a slew of awards including 14 Grammys, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Medal of Honor, Presidential Medal of Honor, and the inaugural Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award, which is known as an "Ella."
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This year marks Lady Ella's 100th birthday and to celebrate, the Utah Symphony will present "Ella at 100: Patti Austin Sings Ella Fitzgerald" at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 7, at the Snow Park Amphitheater.
Due to scheduling difficulties, Austin — a Grammy winner herself — spoke to The Park Record via email about Fitzgerald and the show.
Park Record: What does it feels like to you personally to pay tribute to the "First Lady of Song?"
Patti Austin: If there's any state beyond feeling honored that's what I feel. I am constantly saying "why me?" which keeps me so grounded when people tell me I'm the heir apparent.
P.R.: You released the Grammy-nominated "For Ella" in 2002. What spurred you to do your new album, "Ella: Now & Then?" Was it her 100th birthday? Was it the songs, or was it both?
P.A.: It was both. She sang so many of the great songs of all time. I also need a constant challenge artistically at this time in my career. And just to live up to her mastery of being so brilliant and making it seem easy was a great challenge. But then as I researched songs to perform along with my co-producer Gordon Goodwin, I realized that Ella could really belt out a tune also but never over [sing it]. That range inspired me because I like to be able to do that in my song storytelling.
P.R.: What sense of responsibility do you feel toward the songs as you perform, whether in the studio or on the stage?
P.A.: At this time when comparisons can just be a marketing ploy, I feel a major responsibility to be authentic in my love for Ella as an artist. I feel that she deserves that from me.
P.R.: What was the challenge for you to keep the songs Ella songs, but in, a sense, making them yours at the same time?
P.A.: When you truly love and respect another artist as much as I love Ella it happens naturally. The key is not wanting to sound like Ella. I cannot sound like her and that would not be worth the time to me. However, since she is my favorite vocalist of all time, the fact that I have been listening to her songs most of my life may have just magically connected my style to hers in a good way I hope.
P.R.: This may be a loaded question, but I'll ask it anyway. Do you have a favorite Ella Fitzgerald song?
P.A.: Impossible to pick one. She sang most of the greatest songs of all time. This may sound strange but each of the songs become my favorite when I'm working on them, whether the performing of them comes easy or with unexpected difficulty.
The Utah Symphony | Utah Opera's Deer Valley Music Festival will continue with "Ella at 100: Patti Austin Sings Ella Fitzgerald" at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 7, at the Snow Park Amphitheater. The concert will be conducted by Randall Craig Fleischer. Tickets range from $36 to $93. For information, visit http://www.deervalleymusicfestival.org.