“The First Lady of Song” is the title held by jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald. She had a voice of crystal clarity, from which rivers of gossamer flowed without effort. Indeed, her ability to transform even the most mediocre song into a thing of beauty has never met its equal, as Frank Sinatra noted, “The best way to start any musical evening is with this girl. It don’t get better than this.” She graced our stages from around 1925 to 1994, always bestowing her best, always delivering more than she promised. Always innovative, she introduced scat to the popular music scene. Always upbeat, full of love and joy, Ella’s infectious good vibes continue to inspire musicians everywhere. Here, we’ve included some of the best Ella Fitzgerald songs of her long career. Enjoy.
10. Cow Cow Boogie
This is the second song from the 1942 Abbott and Costello film, Ride ’em Cowboy. This film marks the first time Ella appeared on film, playing the part of Ruby. This is the second chart topping hit by Ella on our list of the best Ella Fitzgerald songs with the first one being “A-Tisket A Tasket”. As for the charts, “Cow Cow Boogie” made it to number 10 on the US charts, and number 1 on the US R & B charts.
9. Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
The origin of this song is from the Longfellow poem, “Rainy Day”. Composed by Doris Fisher with lyrics by Allan Roberts, Ella joined the Ink Spots in 1944 to record their version of the song. The meaning of the song is rather simple, yet poignant. Here, untoward events happen to those to all people during their life time. There is no rhyme or reason, they just happen. Ella and the Ink Spots version gives a bit of a bounce to the tune, catchy and smart. Interesting fact: The Ella Fitzgerald and Ink Spots version appears in the video game Fallout 3.
8. I’m Making Believe
In 1944, “I’m Making Believe” topped Billboard’s National Best Selling Retail Records chart, peaking at number 1 staying there for two weeks. It also made an appearance on the US R & B charts, making it to the number 2 slot. Ella recorded this tune with famed group, the Ink Spots. During Ella’s lifetime, this particular version of the song sold a whopping one million copies plus. Composed by James V. Monaco and Mack Gordon, this song was released on November, 1944 by Decca Records.
7. Can’t Buy Me Love
If you’re wondering if this “Can’t Buy Me Love” is the same one as the song composed by Lennon-McCartney in 1964, then you’d be right. Ella took this song and put her own stamp of originality to it, turning it into a fantastic swing fest. Ella’s rendition ended up on her 1964 album, Hello Dolly! It was next released as a single in 1964 and made it to the 34th spot on the UK Charts. Ella was always appreciative of her fans, and had the ability to always attract new ones, as she stated, “Coming through the years, and finding that I not only have just the fans of my day, but the young ones of today — that’s what it means, it means it was worth all of it.”
6. It’s Only a Paper Moon
“It’s Only a Paper Moon” was composed in 1933 by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Billy Rose and Yip Harburg. Though the Broadway play it was written for tanked, the song lived on due to its charm and simplicity with numerous artists creating cover versions. In 1945 Ella lent her luminous voice to the tune where it became a hit, reaching number 9 on the US charts and number 4 on the US R&B charts. Her delivery, as always, was pure perfection. The rhythmic lilt present in her timing of the tune, along with her playful rendition made this a fan favorite.
5. But Not for Me
“But Not for Me” was composed for the 1930s musical, by George Gershwin, with lyrics by his brother Ira. Ella’s 1959 version peaked at number 25 on the US R & B charts, and also won a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance in 1960. One of the many gifts Ella had with regards to interpretation of song, was her ability to restrain herself. She had it down to a science, and it’s evident in her delivery of this song. In fact, it’s her artistic use of restraint which makes her rendition one of the best in jazz music history.
4. I’m Beginning to See the Light
Ella took this song to the number 5 position on the charts in 1945. Composed by the great Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges and Harry James with lyrics by Don George in 1944, this song attracted many of the times major artists, such as Frank Sinatra. However, it’s Ella’s version which truly captures its intent. Her interpretation created a bright and lithe rendition, one which could touch the soul at its darkest hour and turn it into a ray of light.
3. A-Tisket A-Tasket
“A-Tisket A-Tasket” was recorded in 1938 and became a huge hit. Derived from a simple nursery rhyme it was further developed by both Ella Fitzgerald and Al Feldman. This was the song that put Ella on the map, so to speak. Recorded in conjunction with the Chick Webb Orchestra, this tune became an all-time favorite with fans of Ella and jazz in general and hit the charts at number one. Later on in 1938, Ella and Chick Webb got together to write and release a sequel to the song, entitled “I Found My Yellow Basket”. Another interesting tid bit, is that Ella performed this song in the Abbott and Costello film, Ride ’em Cowboy.
2. Mack the Knife
The version in the accompanying video represents one of the best performances Ella ever did. Why? Because in this 1960 live version in Berlin, Ella forgot the lyrics halfway through the song, and completed the rest of the song in freestyle. True to her style, she was professional in her delivery, even down to her imitation of Louis Armstrong toward the end of the song. Listening to the song, she took a faux pax and turned it into one of her best and most memorable performances ever.
“Summertime” was composed by the master of music, George Gershwin with lyrics by DuBose Heyward, who wrote the book Porgy. The song was for the opera, “Porgy and Bess”. In this version, the incomparable Fitzgerald joins the brilliant musician Louis Armstrong in 1957. Fitzgerald’s clear as crystal smooth delivery contrasts perfectly with the raspy voice of Louis Armstrong. Critically acclaimed, “Summertime” is considered a jazz standard, with musical genius Stephen Sondheim stating that this songs lyrics as “the best lyrics in the musical theater”.
Nothing was beyond her. Though primarily known as a jazz singer could sing everything from scat, rock and roll, swing, jazz, love ballads to show tunes. If requested to perform a song in a particular style, count on her being able to accomplish it. She never upstaged or competed with those she had duets with. Instead, she showed a form of artistic restraint where any ego she might have had, took a back seat to the composition itself. The same could be said of instrumental accompaniment. Famed conductor Arthur Fiedler stated, “Ella’s voice becomes the orchestra’s richest and most versatile sound.” meaning that she blended with the orchestra instead of overpowering it. The best Ella Fitzgerald songs will always be subjective to the listener.