Speaker The first thing I'd like you to do is could you describe the neighborhood, the Yonkers neighborhood, where you are and what it was like in the 20s, 30s?

Speaker Well, it was quite country like this where things where actors spread out as it is today. We had a lot of grass and trees and not so much automobiles like they have today. And naturally, we played out in the street a lot and backyards in front yards. And we played tag and hide and seek and things like that. And we danced. We loved to dance. That was about it. Go to school and come home and that's it.

Speaker Dancing was part of your play.

Speaker Absolutely. We we love to dance. We get out and make our own music, you know, clap our hands and and and dance.

Speaker We try all kind of steps because we we saw these things in the book, in the books and the movies, because they had a little Nickelodeon movies in those days, intented to go to the movie and see it at that particular time. Bojangles was very, very up there.

Speaker And we like to see him dance and Shirley Temple. So naturally, we that was our activity.

Speaker Where would you see someone in the movies? Right.

Speaker What kind of music? Sources. Where did you hear music from?

Speaker Fan phonograph records. You know, we had phonograph records in those days.

Speaker The old wax records. You remember those at the top of things.

Speaker And then we made our own music. We had we made up little bands. We had one fellow. We played a piano. No, not a one. We'll play the drums. Not alone. We'll play a trumpet and a banjo or guitar. And that was it. Those are the things that we add. We make our own music.

Speaker What kind of music did you play?

Speaker Anything with jazz. You order something to dance by? Nothing. No. What it was, it wasn't a wolf. You know what I mean is tap dance. We'd like to tap it. In fact, I was crazy about tap dancing. I used to learn different steps from where I say I'd go down to Savoy and learn different sets and come back and we'd try to match ourselves. If you recall, during that time, the Lindy Hop was a great thing. And also Susie Q was another dance that we learned and shuffle off to Buffalo and all that sort of thing, would you? Well, in fact, they didn't call it jazz in those days. I called it. What did they tap dancing. That's all I can remember. Jazz came along later on.

Speaker I think, oh, my gosh, you.

Speaker I was just curious, sweet baby, if you heard any particular jazz bands.

Speaker Oh, it was a lot of jazz bands in those days. Jimmy Lunsford.

Speaker Duke Ellington. Chick Webb. Uh.

Speaker All those different bands every night. A lot of bands. In fact, when we go down to the Savoy, we'd go down there to hear these bands play and then line the dances. And the bands were terrific. You would go one or two. Sometimes there'd be three. Sometimes it'd be just two of us. In fact, Ellen, I used to go down quite, quite a bit. And then it on two, three other fellows. And also liked to dance in NATO. We'd go together.

Speaker Do you remember the first time, the first time you were.

Speaker Well, that's hard for me to remember exactly that. But I know that we went to school together and she she lived across the street from where we lived.

Speaker And at that particular time, the building that I lived, there was only three buildings on the street. And I lived in one of the buildings that was 70, 72 and 74 School Street.

Speaker And she lived across the street in a two family house. And it was a road houses, two family, three family houses with picket fences around and gardens in the front. And she lived in one of those houses. And we'd go to school, which was a popularity type school, 18. And we graduated from school 18 and went to so.

Speaker Can they get a name in school now? Well, we went to junior high school. What age?

Speaker Oh, sixteen. Fifteen. Sixteen, seventeen. Verner.

Speaker Could you. What did Ella look like? Matt?

Speaker Well, she was just a plain you see, Ella, Ella was just a plain person, she. She liked to. She was more like a tomboy and she was a girl, a girl because she used to pal around with a lot of boys a lot. Now, never bother too much with girls. And if they if I ever learned a new step, she would want to know what it was. And she'd keep on trying until she got it.

Speaker And she sometimes she mastered deception better than I did physically, wouldn't she?

Speaker Well, she was just an ordinary girl. She wasn't beautiful by a long shot, you know. But she she was had a nice attitude, temperament. You know, we got along like two peas in a pod and it wasn't like a boy, a boyfriend girlfriend situation. It was a friend.

Speaker And we just paddled around a lot. You became friends.

Speaker Well, I don't know. I think it was because she she liked dancing. But one thing it was in fact, I was so surprised when she sang that I couldn't believe she had a voice like she has. Because you always like to dance. Everything you do every time you turn around. She said, come on. Let's try this. Let's try that. Let's try it. It was always dancing.

Speaker Oh, yeah. Yeah. Everybody like the boys and girls, she likes you.

Speaker She was easy to get along with, you know. But she also kept to herself. You're not I mean, she had her own way about her and people didn't bother her that much, you know what I mean? They let her have her own way. That's it.

Speaker What do you think? I don't know.

Speaker Did she?

Speaker She looks standoffish. No, no.

Speaker Oh, she won. It's just like.

Speaker If you had any secrets, you kept them to herself. You're not me. She didn't have if you had a friend, you would go to a friend and say, you know, what happened, such and such a such thing. But she would always keep close to herself. Never, never a gossip type of person.

Speaker I have no idea why she did.

Speaker Well, I know that she passed all the great stories. He was able to be promoted from one place to another.

Speaker We know she was in another class. Not my ticket, but we went to school together, you know, in the same school.

Speaker Sort of in her school records. She.

Speaker It says that she was out of school for quite a long time due to an illness. Do you recall that? No, I don't know where.

Speaker One of the funny things that we ran across when we were talking to people is other people in Yonkers. They said. They do not ever remember Ella dancing. All they could remember was Ella singing.

Speaker I can understand that. That's why I would like to know anybody else. And yet, in fact, there's not too many people in Yonkers that are alive today to really who really knew Ella, to tell you the truth. But those that did know or will tell you that she always and she never sang. Always dance because you dance with me.

Speaker We went on a couple of gigs together, make a couple of dollars.

Speaker You actually, right?

Speaker Oh, well, where did you set the scene for that? Right out in the street.

Speaker Clap your hands and do different steps, and I would teach you different routines. In fact, we we had a routine that we did together and we put in that routine the new dance, which was Susie Q at that particular time.

Speaker Could you I'm I'm familiar with this music. Could you show us with your feet? And what is it?

Speaker It's a tap.

Speaker And then you break it. That's part of it. That means they go to break.

Speaker And you provided your music, right?

Speaker Which would have been what? Would it sound like.

Speaker Jump music, clap music.

Speaker Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.

Speaker Like that when you actually get some jobs, right?

Speaker Yeah. Couple jobs wouldn't doesn't begin. There's only four different clubs. Had it had it had a dentist. They have have a dance or or or a smoker. They would call on smokers where they won some entertainment or they pick up a three piece band and they want some entertainment to go along with the cheapest band.

Speaker And we'd go along with the three piece band and whatever they got, we got a certain percentage of it on me. It wasn't big money. It was just dollars and cents enough to go buy books and more, Natalie, you know.

Speaker Did you?

Speaker Well, I did for a while. Yeah.

Speaker In fact, I Ellen became she even became famous, you know, she was was and face. But she started singing.

Speaker I had a little dance group of girls and boys that I taught to dance.

Speaker And then after I got a little older, I just went out the door, you know.

Speaker But you said that, you said.

Speaker OK.

Speaker You said a little earlier that you went to the Savoy.

Speaker How could you describe an evening like that? How you get there?

Speaker Well, at that particular xianyi, you'd have to take a trolley car down to one hundred twenty two hour and twenty to one.

Speaker 21ST Street. And get the subway and Broadway and go down to 120 feet street and get off and walk to the Savoy or what it was, it was a row of different places down. It had bands that played and you could dance. It was almost like years ago they had what they called dime a dance place, palaces. And this is similar to that, these places.

Speaker There was the Savoy. There was another one called the Alhambra. And it was another one. I forget what it was called. And those are the places where these bands played.

Speaker And you go in and you dance and you learn all different dances. Lindy Hop. Susie Q Whatever. Whatever. And Dance Great was at that particular time. How did you go about learning them once you were in you, you would watch the people dance and then you did what they did. Until you got it back. And then we'd come back and teach it to the children around and we played with him.

Speaker There was no restriction. Children could go well.

Speaker Children. They will pierce. And for all that in what we were doing, I mean.

Speaker You just you just described as very ambitious.

Speaker She used to say, I'm going to make something of myself someday. That's exactly what she used to say. She said that quite often. And she did exactly what she said she was going to do. She made something of myself drive. I have no idea what she had here. Gravel. Right. Because she even if you keep your step, you keep at it and keep at it until she got it. Massouda. I think she's that way right till the day she died. She was good at anything she did.

Speaker She had to drive.

Speaker Kids say snake hit Tucker.

Speaker Yeah, well, he was a great dancer. A dancer knows it and that time and he used to shake his hips. That's what he did. And she used to like that. She was crazy. But that type of dance.

Speaker Did you watch it sometimes?

Speaker Yeah, she could do it. Snake it. I could never get there. You'd better not watch it. That.

Speaker The.

Speaker On one occasion, I think you told me that you seemed a little late. Oh, yeah.

Speaker And he came home late and my step dad didn't like it. And he kept her and he would let her go. He grounded her when let go out anymore. In fact, I think that's the last time we went out to go out for a gig. He was. All Yeah, definitely.

Speaker Did you know him? No. Not that well. But I know, you know, I met him.

Speaker I know he picked.

Speaker Any reason why you were so strict with them? I have no idea. I was wishy.

Speaker Well, I don't I don't think they got along too well. I don't think you liked him. It was it was a step dad, remember? So she didn't. She felt as though she didn't have to like him, I guess. But, you know, I'm guessing again, because if she did, she kept it to herself.

Speaker She was just not someone who confided it.

Speaker No, no.

Speaker Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. You could sense what was going on. You know, from her actions. But if you had, I would I would never ask. You know, what's wrong? Did you mistreat you or do anything? Right. I never said anything like that to because she wouldn't tell me anyway.

Speaker What did you say? I said that he was. He wasn't kind to.

Speaker What? Why did I leave Donkers? Why don't you go?

Speaker Well, that's a good question.

Speaker I think that from the way I get you, I think that she left to go live with her on something rather than New York simply because of the best. And, you know, I think I took her back. I think that's what.

Speaker How do you feel when she left? Well.

Speaker Never, never bothered me and, you know, because we weren't really that close, you know, but I was so surprised when I heard a Apollo Theater and when that prize. That was the biggest surprise of my life. Really.

Speaker Listen. Yeah, yeah. Could you just say, well, what that was like, you were listening to this radio? Yeah.

Speaker Tell me about.

Speaker Well, they were announcing a different acts at the Apollo Theater and they announced Ella Fitzgerald and I said Ella Fitzgerald is gonna be on he's on the show at the Apollo. And she's singing. She's not dancing. I said I'd never knew she could sing. Good boy. Doesn't she have a nice what? You know, how would it surprise me?

Speaker Your sister mentioned that she heard Ella imitate Louis Armstrong.

Speaker Yeah, yeah.

Speaker Oh, she used to imitate a lot of different people, too. She was really terrific with that sort of thing.

Speaker Sounds like she was right. Did she have what?

Speaker Oh, boy. Well, that's what I'm trying to explain to you. We never thought she could sing because she was always remember somebody else and never on her own your own voice. But when she did say it surprised everybody because she did have a terrific voice.

Speaker Did you go to the Apollo tonight? No. Never. Never went. Excuse me. What's up? My. It's clear, it's clear. So I'm sorry. OK. Now, after the.

Speaker Her success at the Apollo, she became. Famous pretty quickly, did you stay in touch with the.

Speaker No. No. Were you aware of her? Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

Speaker We know, in fact, we never got in touch with each other at all after she became well known. You know, when state go any time I've seen her is when we I went in the left latter years. When I went to Radio City to meet her, she's a performing.

Speaker Well, that was my daughter took me down. And before she took me down, she called up and asked if it was possible actually he'd take me backstage to meet with Ella after the show.

Speaker And she said they told her they gave her permission and told her what to do. And we went to the show and then after the show, they said, Come on, Dad. We're going to take you backstage.

Speaker I said, For what? We're going to meet Ella. I was really surprised. And we went backstage and we did. We met, sat and talked. And we had a nice little chat that night.

Speaker And I promised that I would keep in touch, but I never did. She gave me a telephone number and her address and we took a snapshot, a picture of each other. We were just getting in good into a reminiscing when it was time to leave. So all those years, right, all those years.

Speaker That's the first time I met.

Speaker But in between, he was on about, oh, many, many, many times, many times.

Speaker What do you think choose? What did you think to becoming so famous? Huh, I thought.

Speaker I wish it was me I. I would like to have been with.

Speaker She.

Speaker At a certain point, she changed her style.

Speaker Right. What did you think?

Speaker Well, like I told you a little while back, I think I told you that she liked to imitate people and she used to imitate Louis Armstrong on hate when he played the trumpet. She would attribute that to the same thing. And that that's why I noted that Scott wasn't nothing new to her because she was doing it then.

Speaker She could take away any instrument that her band was playing and imitated. So. Right. Right, yeah, right.

Speaker And that's what's that's what's great is if you if you if you really listen to someone who's got music, she's imitating an instrument in the band.

Speaker Well, she gets a pretty good training now when Chick Webb. Oh, yeah.

Speaker Did people talk about oh, yes, they did. I did a talk to a lot of people talk about.

Speaker What we would do you good.

Speaker You know what you made of us her life, you know? Yeah. Do they still. Oh, yes. Oh, yes, they still talk about how every time you an old record or an old, you know, a movie comes up, an atlas playing in areas like. In fact, today I was looking at a soap opera and when it went on soap operas, was playing one of those records in soap up. And I said, there's Ella.

Speaker Unmistakable and. The.

Speaker It's, you know, like the most famous person ever from Yonkers, from Yonkers, I would say she is.

Speaker Well, they recently dedicated it, unveiled a statue that was made by a local got girl and there are bronze statue and they erected it and put her Guttmann near it.

Speaker Near the station. Yeah, the station.

Speaker And I had a nice turnout for that fair.

Speaker Oh, yes.

Speaker They learn every day. You know what I mean? People from the people that had a dad did NOI. They carried on to their grandchildren until a lot of people knew. Well, you know, to music. Not not personally.

Speaker Mother, no, I didn't.

Speaker I didn't know it that well. I mean, I knew I knew other, you know, like, see, I've seen it, you know.

Speaker She.

Speaker She was pretty young when she died. Right. Very good. So I didn't see that much of it. So I didn't say much about her mother.

Speaker What happened when she lost her?

Speaker I think that's when the art came in and took it to New York to live with her.

Speaker Do you remember talking to her? No. I never talked about.

Speaker When the.

Speaker In all that time between you, she left Yonkers and then you saw her at Radio City. What was the most? Striking thing about her career to you.

Speaker What was the most striking thing about her career to me was the fact that she had made such a success of our life.

Speaker The.

Speaker Songs.

Speaker Oh, my goodness. There's so many songs, in fact, and there's one song that I think that I like.

Speaker I mentioned one time before.

Speaker Climb a stairway to the stars. And that's one of her greatest renditions, I think, and I like to hear it every time.

Speaker I can play it. I played. Oh, yes, I have a lot of I had records that I have taped and the records are gone, but the tapes I have.

Speaker When she got to those.

Speaker What did you think of that? What do you think that did for?

Speaker Everything that Elliott did was was was it was like I say, it was a success. I don't think she ever had a flow.

Speaker Of anything. But there was something quite new for her.

Speaker Everything she did was good. Any. Yeah. You see?

Speaker Were you ever really surprised?

Speaker This is definitely, definitely.

Speaker I never, never, never thought that she would be successful. She is. Never. Well, it's like everything else, I think. You got it, you got to have the breaks. If you get the breaks, you know, one never knows where they can go from there.

Speaker Anything else you need?

Speaker Well, she had everything to go along with it, hit the brakes and the talent and the push, you know, the the the the get up and go girl. Attica. Yes. I'm going to make something of myself.

Speaker Now, after she was went to live in Harlem with her, Virginia.

Speaker We there's some information that she spent some time in an orphanage, the Hudson School. Did you know? No. She dropped out of school?

Speaker No.

Speaker No. After she went down to live with it, that's just testing. End of what? Of what I know of. Because the only next day next time I heard about Elle is when she was down about the ADA. And that was it. What happened in between?

Speaker I have no idea how she was going to be.

Speaker Well, you call it on the radio every time they pollos had their amateur hour. That's what they called, I think was on it. I'm not mistaken, it either Friday night or Saturday night. And we'd rush home and see to hear the amateur hour. And that's when TV and amateur shots were up.

Speaker What do you what do you think was. Contribution to our world.

Speaker Well. Well, for one thing, she showed the world that you don't have to.

Speaker Be rich or be or be one to be raised in a rich environment, to become.

Speaker Famous or well known to achieve what she has. She made friends with the world. I think because she sang all over the world and everybody did try to enjoy her music. That's what I would say. My contribution was great.

Speaker Do you remember how you heard about her death?

Speaker Well, I know that she was very ill because.

Speaker I read where she had no sugar. She lost her eyesight. She lost part of her leg.

Speaker In fact, I think the time that I saw down the power of Radio City Music Hall, she had already lost her foot at that particular time. So therefore, I that there wasn't much I could do, you know, anyone could do. And I didn't have much time.

Speaker And do you remember when you heard that she was gone? I don't really recall, but. No, I don't recall. I heard.

Speaker I know I said it was a godsend that she did go because, after all, who wants to live with any condition that she was she must have been suffering.

Speaker Why do you think?

Speaker Kept on working like that. Why do you think, Ella? Well, I would say that is that's the way she is. The way she was, she said the show must go on. And I think once you and your business. That's what that's that's the theme. That's the thing. The show must go on.

Speaker Did you see that in her when she was a child, when you were children together?

Speaker No, the only thing that I've seen in it was the fact that she had to get up and go and cheat that the way she was. And I just carried on, you know, from from childhood to to adult.

Speaker Oh, there's one thing for your sister described Ella to us as a happy young girl.

Speaker But to an extent, yes, to an extent, I would agree. He was a happy because he used. She.

Speaker She really kept to herself, but whatever she did, she was happy doing.

Speaker Let's put it that way. You know.

Speaker Maybe what?

Speaker Well, I. That's what I'm saying. Whatever. Whatever she did, she was happy doing. But but at the same time, if she was sad, she kept it to herself. You'd never know. You'd never SHC. You'd never say to her. What's wrong, Ella? And she would say, well, such a such a sad thing. No, you never say that. I would never say it to it. Because if she wanted you to know, she tell you. You kept everything to herself.

Speaker But somehow you did. Feel that she was.

Speaker Well, yes, I would say I would, yes. There were some things that when she did keep things to us up, then, you know, you knew you had that feeling. It was something near. But, you know, I would never ask her. I wouldn't. I don't know if anybody else did.

Speaker What do you think made her that way? Good idea.

Speaker It's interesting because it's such a.

Speaker Completely different impression. Yeah, right. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker Yeah, yeah, well, my my sister was the type of person that could bring out things from people that I could never bring out. In fact, if my sister could say something to Elle and make Ella laugh, you know, I mean, maybe Ella wasn't in the mood for laughter. You know, that's. And that's why she said those.

Speaker But you get a different. Right. Right. Was it because of your.

Speaker Dancing. What do you think it was different?

Speaker Well, we were buddy buddy. More is like more like two boys and a boy and a girl. You know, I mean, because he was Geopark. The fact is, he'd say, let's do this, Johnny. And I say, OK, let's do this, Ellen. And she say, OK. And that's the way we would buddy buddy type.

Speaker So in a way, probably.

Speaker I would say so, yeah. And we we were we were buddy buddy close.

Speaker We were close. That that that's how close we were. I could have asked if there was something wrong and get an answer, but I didn't know what stopped.

Speaker I don't know.

Speaker That's the kind of feel that I am. OK.

Speaker Oh, I know. I never really had a physical description of her when she was a young girl. What does she look like?

Speaker She didn't look like a young lady. She looked too gawky, really. She was tomboyish.

Speaker In fact, the.

Speaker You never see her in a silk taffeta dress or a ribbons in a hair? No, she was strictly a tomboy. Everything was plain, you know.

Speaker That's a physical description of Ellen.

Speaker OK, so it was quiet here for a few seconds. By room, John, please.

Speaker We're good. Thank you.

Charles Gulliver
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-8w3804z48n, cpb-aacip-504-kw57d2qz5p
"Charles Gulliver, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 24 Nov. 1998,
(1998, November 24). Charles Gulliver, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Charles Gulliver, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). November 24, 1998. Accessed May 29, 2022


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