Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Birthday: Ella Fitzgerald & Huey Long

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996), also known as the "First Lady of Song" and "Lady Ella," was a Jazz vocalist and pianist with a vocal range spanning three octaves (Db3 to Db6). She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

She is considered to be a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over a recording career that lasted 59 years, she was the winner of 13 Grammy Awards including one for Lifetime Achievement in 1967. Other major awards and honors she received during her career were the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Medal of Honor Award, National Medal of Art, first Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award, named "Ella" in her honor, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, UCLA Spring Sing.


Huey Long (April 25, 1904 – June 10, 2009) was a singer, musician and composer who was the last living member of the Ink Spots, the legendary group that helped shape the musical genres of rhythm & blues, rock & roll and doo-wop.

Long was born in Sealy, Texas and grew up in a musical family with his brothers Jewell, Herbert and Sam, who all were active musicians. Huey started on piano, then moved to ukulele, to banjo and eventually guitar. In 1925, while working as a shoe shiner outside the Rice Hotel in Houston, opportunity knocked for Long to start a professional career as a musician when star trumpeter Punch Miller was in town to perform at the hotel with The Frank Davis Louisiana Jazz Band, who needed a banjo player to sit in.

After completing the summer with Davis' jazz band, Long played with a local band before moving to Chicago where he gained a foothold in Jazz. He changed to guitar with Texas Guinan's Cuban Orchestra at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. Long absorbed the Chicago jazz scene playing with several big bands and recording with New Orleans pianist Richard M Jones and pianist-vocalist Lil Armstrong, the former wife of Louis Armstrong.

When bandleader Fletcher Henderson came to Chicago to play the Grand Terrace supper club, he asked the local musicians union to send him a good guitarist who could sightread. Long played the first show and passed the "audition". Long toured with Henderson and ended up at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York. After Henderson's group disbanded, Long stayed in New York and joined up with Earl Hines' Orchestra, which had Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the line-up. In early 1944, Long got the call from Bill Kenny, leader of the Ink Spots for a position with the group. His short lived tenure with the Ink Spots allowed Long to branch out as musician into other forms of entertainment.

While the Ink Spots were signed to Decca records, they recorded several tunes with label-mate Ella Fitzgerald.

Long moved back to Houston in 1996 and was cared for by his daughter Anita, who set up an Ink Spots museum featuring her father Huey. The museum is located in the Houston Heights area across the street from where his apartment was located. Huey Long was 105 years old when he passed away in 2009. For more info, log on to Ink Spots Museum and contact Anita Long.

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