Happy Birthday to Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song

The American Art Museum is celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday, April 25, with a special tribute concert in the museum’s Kogod Courtyard. Laurel Fehrenbach, public programs coordinator, spoke with Fran Morris Rosman, the executive director of The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation in Los Angeles about the upcoming event and Ella Fitzgerald’s legacy. This interview was originally published by SAAM’s blog, Eye Level.


Watercolor portrait of Ella Fitzgerald by Sharon McGuire

Ella Fitzgerald, watercolor by Sharon B. Maguire, Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation

Laurel Fehrenbach: Some people may not know that Ella Fitzgerald created a charitable foundation. Can you tell us a little about the Foundation?

Fran Morris Rosman: Sadly, Ella had a very difficult childhood and she wanted to make sure that others wouldn’t have to suffer like she did. So, back in 1993, with the help of her attorney (my husband of 30+ years, Richard Rosman), she established the Foundation that bears her name. I took over running it after Ella’s death, from diabetes, in 1996. We’re still going strong, continuing Ella’s charitable legacy.

LF: How did the Foundation get involved with the Smithsonian?

FMR: That’s easy. Ella’s archives were donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History back in 1997. We love ALL the Smithsonian museums and we’ve been helping support the Take 5! Jazz Appreciation Month celebrations at the American Art Museum for many years —free concerts in the Courtyard! Ella would have liked that.

LF: Will you be in Washington, D.C. for the performance?

FMR: Not this year. Even though we are based out in Los Angeles, we try to get to DC when American Art celebrates Ella. We have heard some fabulous music and we’ve enjoyed meeting Ella’s DC fans. I love the age range of the audience: from babies to seniors. And I love watching the little kids dance in the aisles. Ella loved children, and children love music. So the Take 5! concerts are a perfect way to bring Ella’s music to the new generations.

Some folks are jazz fans, others like the Great American Songbook. Baby Boomers, like me, love Rock-and-Roll. Well, Ella sang them all! Her career spanned over fifty years; she won 13 Grammy Awards, countless other awards and many national and international honors.

LF: What is Ella’s greatest legacy?

FMR: Her recordings. So, we are thankful to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for continuing the music and indeed, introducing it to new audiences and new generations.

LF: How should we celebrate what would have been Ella’s 97th birthday on April 25, 2014?

FMR: By listening to Ella’s music at Take 5!, of course! And by purchasing her music, Ella assigned ALL of her royalties to the Foundation that bears her name.

Take 5! An Evening with Ella is part of the American Art Museum’s celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month. Join us in the museum’s Kogod Courtyard Friday, April 25 from 5 to 8 p.m. for a performance by The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, featuring the outstanding vocals of Lena Seikaly.

Posted: 23 April 2014
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