Speaker Could you tell me the story behind this place? Okay.

Speaker Well, in 1990, in 1965, there was the Watts riots are what we call an uproar in the south central Los Angeles area. And the neighbors, the watches, which is a group of ladies in the Beverly Hills Bel Air neighborhoods, decided that they wanted to do something for the ladies down in the south central area. So they proposed a child care center and they found the building, which is what we now call the Harriet Shields child care center. And they enrolled the children off the street and in the neighborhoods and they hired a director, which is Mrs. Harriet Shields. And during that, they wanted to make a better life for the ladies in that area. And so what they did is in order to come to the child care center, you had to be working, are in school giving these ladies a start again in life. And that center became so successful that they decided that they wanted to open up another center. And that's how Ella Fitzgerald came on board. She started to give the concerts and do a lot of things that were fund raising ideas for these ladies. And we opened up the Al Fitzgerald site. And this site has been open for about 22 years on April the 14th. However, it opened on April the 1st. And as a volunteer thing, we started putting the equipment together and all of the things. So it's really 22 years as of yesterday and put all the equipment in and we got the children and it was licensed for 42 children, seven staff members. And it was just something that Ella Fitzgerald wanted to do because she felt that it was important that the ladies get off the welfare system, AFDC system, what we call now TANF and to do something with their lives. And so she made an opportunity for the parents to go back to school and to get jobs. And this was a safe place where their children and we've been here 22 years.

Speaker That's why I do that. I'll go check on. This lady that you're looking great, just again, just look at your. Stand by one sec. What's the function of this place?

Speaker It allows the parent to continue their education and allows them also to go to work and have a safe place for their children.

Speaker How did you get involved here?

Speaker She was a member of an organization called Neighbors of Watts. And with her singing background in her career, she was able to perform at different concerts, which were fund raising activities in order to allow the center to open doors.

Speaker Did she come here?

Speaker Oh, yes. At every Christmas she came and she sang to the children. And she was a part of our Christmas program for years and years. And at Easter time, she would send chocolate bunnies and stuffed animals for the children. She also like Christmas gifts, Christmas turkeys to each family. Our Christmas presents to each chow Thanksgiving. She gives them turkeys for the families, making sure that all the parents have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a Christmas dinner.

Speaker Is there some aspect of Ella? You try too hard.

Speaker We let them know that she was a caring, loving person, a sharing person. She loved children. She loved to sing. And it's OK to have a career in singing. Then you can be successful in the self-esteem issue about giving up on the stage and feeling good about yourself and the things that you do.

Speaker Does this place have a motto?

Speaker Yes, our motto is that we believe in it, believe in children and who, if not us, will be responsible.

Speaker Mm hmm. Uh.

Speaker I was under the impression that actually organized benefits for this ship Drew.

Speaker Yes, it is. She was one of the fund raising benefit chairs. At one point in time, all they had action, silent auctions. They had concerts. They had huge parties, dinners. And we can come out and dance and sing. And they had a lot of celebrities that would come out. And she was always on the marker. She was always the key person involved.

Speaker And that money would go directly to this place, directly to the center.

Speaker They have raised. I want to say in some years, over a hundred thousand dollars for the children, because one point in time we weren't a state funded program. And so all of the funds had to be raised through the organization Neighbors of watching the Ella Fitzgerald.

Speaker So does she continue to do it? Is there some connection?

Speaker Yes, we are in her estate and we're up under the other Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation. And her legacy of the turkeys and the gifts to the children continue on each Christmas and each Thanksgiving.

Speaker And can you recall the last time she was here?

Speaker I want to say it was right before her health failed. So I would say, like in nineteen eighty five I want to say. And she also saying to the children, and she was the type of person that one year we didn't have a P.A. system, and within three days after she left, we had a P.A. system. She also donated the piano sets out in the classrooms. Just anything that we needed. Ah. She saw when she came to the centers, she would make sure that we had it within three or four days. She's a very quiet person.

Speaker She would notice it and just do it right.

Speaker She didn't make a big issue out of it, all of a sudden you would just see the delivery truck come and you see now who's getting something. And the P.A. came out and it's like, where do we get a pound from? And they says, oh, it was donated from Ella Fitzgerald.

Speaker Movements that we were. Do know.

Speaker Yes. At Black History Time, would they have a poem that they talk about Ella Fitzgerald. And during the year we we are seeing some of her songs and also we have her picture up in the classroom and they pretty much and they know that the singer is named after her.

Speaker First lady of song.

Speaker I would assume that's not music.

Speaker Well, not no, not on a normal basis, if they were probably at home because they probably their grandparents are the great grands would probably listen to that. We have it during time at rest time. And then sometime during the day, we will listen to the Ella Fitzgerald. But we're basically into nursery rhymes in those type of things.

Speaker Do they know anything about her life?

Speaker No, nothing more than that, she was a singer and that she loved children and she loved caring and cheering for other people.

Speaker Did I ever talk to you about why children were so.

Speaker No, she did.

Speaker Probably to our founding director, Harriet Sheels, she was very close with her and they had set up a friendship that was just everlasting. And in 1985, Michelle's also passed away. And that was the last time that we saw Ella Fitzgerald because her health had become bad. And I think it was just a shock that her best friend, one of her best friends, had passed away. But she always made sure that we continue to get the things that she would call and check on us and we would send her things on her birthday and different things, you know, where we send her pictures and that kind of thing.

Speaker Let her know that we still love you. We still care about you. But we understand. We tell the children, you know, sometimes you can't get around it like you used to do, you know, and we understand that there's disabilities in our lives and that grandparents, we you know, we have affiliation with Golden Ages, which is right down the street from us. And so they understand wheelchairs and not being able to get around. So they understand.

Speaker Do you have hopes for this place and plans for more or.

Speaker Well, right now, we're in the process of doing a community center where we'll have a multi generation of people that will come through and we will learn through different cultures about different things that happen and be able to learn from each other. That's what I want to say. And that's our goal. And have an after school program where the children can come and have tutoring. The children that have graduated from the Ella Fitzgerald Child Care Center has done remarkably well. We have them in all different types of colleges, all different types of programs. They were there, police officers. Now they're graduated from Howard. We have them at Berkeley and they're doing very, very well.

Speaker They come back and they check on us just to see. We have some that have our teachers now that says that we made an impact, this intimate impact. So we're doing well.

Speaker Women who teach here. Where do they go?

Speaker They come from the community also. A lot of them came from the JPA program and a lot of them were at home also with nothing to do. And this was an opportunity that gave them employment opportunities. And so they're doing well, too. We have not a high turnover. Some of the ladies that you see out there have been with us for least 15 years. We've had some to retire after. Twenty five years. So long time.

Speaker Whether it was.

Speaker The. I'm not exactly clear on how.

Speaker The soldiers still associated with elephants. OK, is that.

Speaker Well, they said the center was named after her. OK. And in 1977, because of the amount of money that was raised for the center. And she raised it. That's how the center became named after her. And she just we always had a special place in our heart. So when she passed away.

Speaker Oh.

Speaker Oh, Rossman, Richard Rossman gave me a call and let me know that we were in the wheel and that he would continue to make sure that we got the things that she wanted us to have, which is the turkeys at Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Christmas toys.

Speaker And if anything else that we need in there and his wife, Fran, is just wonderful with books, that's something that I forgot to tell you. Every time a child has a birthday, they receive a book and they furnish our libraries.

Speaker And just because they believe in reading, you know, and Ella Fitzgerald was a reader. And so just anything with education or music, they're behind and they're willing to fund it. To my understanding, a music program for the children that will probably be coming out in year 2000. That's their plans. The Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.

Speaker Well, obviously, in a place like this, you need other sources.

Speaker Yes, well, we are funded by the State Department of Education and the way we receive our finances by the average daily attendance. According to the child that comes in each day, we receive twenty two point thirty two cents and some change for the children.

Speaker Do other people now do benefits?

Speaker No. No more benefits.

Speaker Well, the neighborhood watch group has disband. And during the day, they went through a change. Child care was very important at one point in time in their lives. And then they decided once we got up on our feet and we had the state funding, that they need to do some other things.

Speaker So they went into AIDS, which is a very needed program. And so just recently, within the last five years, they've disband because some of their members had started to pass away with age and. They lost, not lost interest, it just passed away, most of them really passed away. And so the ladies just kind of disband. But they knew we would do well and we continue to do well for you. You feel your.

Speaker Self-sustaining. Iran. Well, there's no chance she'll go under, you know.

Speaker Unless the state pools their funds, then we would have to totally fund ourselves and then we could go under because are the the group that we serve our Low-Income Parents. And in order to have child care, they would have to pay twenty two dollars a day plus change. And that's a little expensive for some children. I mean, some parents. So we couldn't do that, so we would go on, do we? Because right now we have a private non-profit status. But to be a private status, it is very costly to run childcare centres.

Speaker I think that's it. Unless you want to add something that I didn't think. No, I can't think of a nervous wreck.

Speaker We'll take a break, sure.

Speaker I can ask you a question. OK? What? Oh, you're early. Yeah, of course they are.

Speaker Your philosophy of teaching children would relate to Ella's attitude.

Speaker I think that children learn through play and through movement and motivation. And I think Ella Fitzgerald had the same idea also because she was always moving and singing when she came down here with the children. So I believe that she also felt that children learn by giving them the opportunity to move, saying dance and to be a part of the program. And that's what we feel. Also, you and you see her. Oh, yes.

Speaker Oh, yes. When she was up and about, Michelle's would play the piano and they would both gallop around and be a part of the child's program and actually sit down and eat with the children. And she just wanted to be just she didn't like all of the fanfare. So she just wanted to be a part of the program and just quietly a part of the program.

Speaker Oh, love to dance. Yes.

Speaker Oh, yes. We danced, we truly danced, and the children would dance with their. And there wasn't a set dance, it was whatever type of music was on and whatever type of movement you wanted to do it just as long as you were moving and you were singing.

Speaker Helen herself was had one adopted child. Did she ever talk to you or did anyone associated with the senator about her feelings about that child? What do your family know?

Speaker I think we were her family, a part of her family. I think she considered that the Ella Fitzgerald children that were enrolled at the center were part of her family.

Speaker Anything now I get the pictures of her eating here with the goats.

Speaker No. That was part of this given say, can we put it in the paper that you're giving, Terry is now. He never wanted it in the paper that she would give Turki's away. And, you know, at Christmas time we'd ask, do you want us to put it in the paper that you're giving the children Christmas, right? No. She never wanted this. She was always low key and quiet. When she came in. That's probably why you're having a hard time finding pictures, because you really should always tell the TV cameras when they came. I'm here for the children. Take a picture of the children.

Speaker It just dawned on me, because she would always say, don't take me, take the children. The children are on show.

Sharon Lanier
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Sharon Lanier, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 02 Apr. 1999,
(1999, April 02). Sharon Lanier, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Sharon Lanier, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). April 02, 1999. Accessed June 25, 2022


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