Before jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald became the First Lady of Song and earned 13 Grammy Awards, she spent much of her teenage years as an orphan, finding odd jobs to get by and, at times, living on the street. Filmmaker Charlotte Zwerin interviews journalist Nina Bernstein and Fitzgerald’s longtime friend June Norton, who discuss one of the singer’s most difficult periods. Enduring harsh conditions at an abusive reformatory program in Hudson, New York, Fitzgerald faced prejudiced policies common in the institutional racism of the 1930s child welfare system. She battled through this adversity to achieve a career driven by sheer determination and talent [Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For (1999)].
In this exclusive outtake from the film, Nina Bernstein reflects on the hardships that Ella Fitzgerald endured as an orphan, and how she built her career despite the odds.