Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song
GRP Records GRD-2-619 (two CDs).
Verve 314 517 898-2 (three CDs).
Perhaps three singers stand above all others as the defining vessels for the great outpouring of American popular song in this century: Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, and Ella Fitzgerald. Sinatra and Astaire have been well anthologized on compact disc for years; now Ella gets hers, on the occasion of her seventy-fifth birthday, in 1993. The GRP set consists of thirty-nine numbers she recorded when she was under contract to Decca, from 1938 to 1955; the Verve set offers fifty-one songs recorded for that label between 1949 and 1966. The Decca tracks show a brilliant natural musician growing and maturing while never losing the airy charm in her voice, performing with a wide variety of bands and artists, including Chick Webb, the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and Louis Armstrong. The Verve set brings us Ella at her peak. It was for Verve that she recorded her “songbooks,” whole albums devoted to the likes of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, and Duke Ellington. Both sets are handsomely packaged with excellent, full notes and essays.