Transcript:

Speaker When did you read it?

Speaker Well, it was way back in nineteen thirty seven.

Speaker I was singing with the Larry Clinton band and she was with Chick Webb and we were playing with senior prom at the University of Pennsylvania. And I don't know if they do it these days, but when they had the problems with the colleges, they were in the gymnasium. Of course, they decorated and made it beautiful, but they'd have one band on one side of the gym and one side on the other side, the other band.

Speaker And we would alternate.

Speaker And I heard this voice after I wish I wouldn't last, that I heard this voice. It was remarkable. And I ran across when I was finished, I ran. I almost knocked down a few dancers. I wanted to see this lady. And I saw Ella. And we talked. We became friends. I told her how wonderful she was and she was. And we became friends and we were friends right up until the end.

Speaker What did you find so attractive about her?

Speaker You know, I've been asked that question. If everybody knew what was so attractive about her singing, we would all do it or try to do it because she had a very special quality. I mean, when she sang a ballad to me, she sounded like a cello. It was a mellow sound that was wonderful. And every word, every word was less clear. You never know where she was gonna go. She'd go off until the high spot perfectly and back down where she belonged. It was a beautiful sound and such an imagination. Imaginative singing.

Speaker I love the. This was these are swing bands, I guess, right?

Speaker No. Well.

Speaker I guess in the late 40s, she incorporated the new modern jazz into her singing.

Speaker Which Warren Jeffs will be well. All right. Of course, I'm sorry. I was a disc jockey in New York and we used to play a but she did everything. She could do everything.

Speaker What did you think of that? I've heard that saying, are you talking about the. Stop, please.

Speaker What do they call it? Well, scared, scared.

Speaker So I really don't know what you mean.

Speaker I think you mean scared.

Speaker OK. All right.

Speaker And the only other person I could do it was Mel. Tommy as well. I mean, I can remember Bieber very well, but I don't remember her. I remember Dizzie.

Speaker Gillespie, Yeah, but. Are you one of the biggest.

Speaker Yes, I'm all right.

Speaker But that was scared. And as I say, nobody could do that except Mel Torme. He was also a good scat singer. That's what I mean when I said imagination.

Speaker The.

Speaker Did you see I assume you pursue your careers?

Speaker Yes. How did you stay in character?

Speaker Well, whenever she played anywhere that I could get to hear her. Andre and I would be here. But we lost touch. Not really lost touch. But I was back east. Most of my life. And she was out here, out here in California. And so it wasn't until I moved to California, which was in nineteen eighty, that we picked up and became good friends again.

Speaker So you visited her?

Speaker Oh, right. We live not too far apart. And she had a beautiful home. I guess you've heard that. And the trophies and the awards on the photographs were unbelievable. I mean, she'd start with the president of the United States. Many presidents of the United States with all the foreign leaders and musicians and singers. And I don't think anybody ever had such a collection. And she was in every picture with all of these stars.

Speaker She was in the room.

Speaker Yes. I guess she called it a done. That's where we spent most of our time visiting. Our living room was rather formal, although that, too, had a lot of trophies. And one of them was ours, the Society of Singers trophy. I don't know if you know about the side of singers, but, uh, I guess it was about 1984 when a group of US singers decided that they were few singers that were in trouble. Financial trouble falling, falling between the tracks and some very well-known singers whose names you would be aware of were hungry. And we we started a society of singers to help these people. And we help singers who have been professional singers for at least five years. I mean, we don't help people who sing in the shower, but, uh, we help people that sing. I've sung and need help. And we've become a large organization as the society of singers. And it was started by Jennie Mycenae, Hank's widow, lady by the name of Gilda Making. And then a few of us just joined the band right away. And suddenly we expanded and we have over a thousand members and we put on a show. I must tell you this. We put on a wonderful fund raiser every year. It's the it's the hottest ticket in town. We give an award. Our award is a crystal pyramid designed by Tiffany Jewelers and suitably inscribed. And we call it the L-A and that's in perpetuity. That'll go on forever, I hope. And it was our first recipient of the L-A. Frank Sinatra was next. Tony Martin, Peggy Lee in 80, Lena Horne. And our last one was Rosie Clooney. And this is a proud. I'm very proud of the society of singers. And our slogan, if we want to get members and you don't want to be a singer to be a member. I mean, there are a lot of people in Los Angeles who just support us.

Speaker And we say, if you've ever enjoyed a singer, you've ever employed a singer. If you've ever exploiting exploitative, singer should be a member.

Speaker And, of course, you know, singers have been exploited every big benefit. Everybody gets paid. Musicians have to be paid. Singers don't get paid.

Speaker And singers, we feel that every individual has to have a song or a singer that meant something in her life. I know myself because I made a record called Deep Purple that became very popular.

Speaker I got 30 dollars for suicides. But that's beside the point. That's why we have the society of singers so that singers will be protected.

Speaker Do you think it was exploitive?

Speaker I don't think so. I think Ella was a smart woman, a quiet lady, but she knew what she was doing and she was surrounded by advisers, thought, I think we're okay.

Speaker Did you know Norman Rand?

Speaker No, I never did. Course I know who he was. Did you ever, ever talk to you about Szechwan?

Speaker Yes. What a sweet man he was. And of course, we all felt terrible that he lived such a short life. He's a wonderful drummer.

Speaker And it was good to her.

Speaker Did she ever talk about what she had learned from you? Not to me. No, not during these times. Later on, when you. Began to zero. Right, Mike? What did she do?

Speaker She had a marvelous garden shed, a rose garden that was a prize winner, beautiful estate, and she loved to pool with her flowers. And I think the music was playing from morning till night and a lot of it was hers. And when tour buses used to come by, as they did in Beverly Hills, she would go out and greet the people, which is rather unusual. She would greet them and welcome them and invite them in. She would show them the den and the living. That's it. And she was beloved. And somebody once said, why do you do that, you know? She said, These are my people. These are my friends. They buy my albums. Why would I be without them?

Speaker They must've been very surprised.

Speaker Tell me why. She had a birthday the same within a few days of mine.

Speaker When you first started seeing her at her home, she was not ill.

Speaker No, and she was OK. And she was sort of semi working here and there, and she she worked at the Hollywood Bowl. I'd like to tell you about this. She did this gabled the bowl. One night, Andre and I were there and she was working with a trio with Paul Smith of the piano and Joe Pass playing guitar. And, you know, I would love to be close to her audience. She wanted to be there. And this night she was wearing her thick glasses. And. She edged two others under the stage and she fell into the boxes. I tell you, the audience just gasped. It was not a big fall, but it was a fall. And Paul and Joe went down and picked her up and brought it back up on the stage. And somebody brought a stool out of the wings and she sat down on the stool and she smiled and she said, Now you can tell your friends that Elmo fell for you.

Speaker And she signaled the guys and she went right into the song, Since I Fell for you.

Speaker And the audience just went wild. Of course, I heard that she had some pretty ugly bruises the next few days, but nobody ever knew it.

Speaker She had the ability to. All right. Everybody loved him.

Speaker What was your impression of her onstage? I mean, we know that she was very nervous before she went on. I think that's not surprising at all. But somehow she would just.

Speaker The minute you hear the introduction, you go, it's true. And how did I feel about her on stage? I can do no wrong. Everything she did was right and good and wonderful. And when she had the eye problem and wore the thick glasses, that didn't stop her. It didn't hurt her.

Speaker As far as the public is concerned and. I think she was going. He's getting back to your business, your home.

Speaker What was it like? I mean, after she became ill?

Speaker No. OK. She was still well. Well, we would set out in what they call a back yard, but it was absolutely beautiful area, you know, planted. We had lovely, um, the swimming pool and we just sit around. She loved children and she would invite all the children to come and enjoy her pool and her. Place. She. She was just very good and we talked a lot. We talked about our families. She told me about her son and I told her about my son and daughter and. We talked about the business and about all these singers and we expressed ourselves, but the arrangers and musicians, you know, talk show biz.

Speaker I really literally let go. Please don't put that out for a while.

Speaker See, she wasn't happy about it, but I understand at the end he was running.

Speaker Please don't. Let me do that. OK. All right.

Speaker And what did she have to say about other singers?

Speaker Well, we talked about Sarah Vaughan, who she loved.

Speaker You know, she was a good friend and calm and looked great. They were all the friends with a little group of stars that were just superb. And she still liked to play cards with the boys in the band. We all did that. Laura used to send my husband money and he couldn't figure out where I was getting it. Well, I was on the road playing cards.

Speaker When she became ill.

Speaker We sat and talked a lot. But she she was a sport, she never complained. She really did.

Speaker And she had her personally her all the time, which I thought was kind of funny. She wasn't going anywhere. And she was very kind. I mean, she'd say to me, do you want. Would you like to have a cup of coffee? And she said that maybe twelve times in an hour. It may have been the medication, but she was very caring of me.

Speaker And we sat in the den at a little table and the lady would bring in coffee. I finally said yes. And.

Speaker You know, she had the glasses and she had the blanket on her legs and long legs.

Speaker It was heartbreaking. She never complained.

Speaker And at the end, you will meet to talk about.

Speaker I just wanted to ask you one question. Uh. So before that, she loved children and they all came to swim in the student neighborhood children.

Speaker There was a school down the street. Well, a little further and then down the street. And we all share a lot of friends in the neighborhood and lay their grandchildren and her family would come.

Speaker A large family. A lot of people.

Speaker And most of them I didn't know until the funeral when I saw them. Her birthday was April 25th, and every year on her birthday, we will get together just a few of us and have cake and coffee.

Speaker And giving a little gift.

Speaker What could you give Ella Fitzgerald at that point? I mean, she had it all and I decided one day to go out and go to a toy store and buy a. Stuffed animal and I saw that sort of thing. I don't know whether it was a bunny or a puppy or what, didn't have any character, but it was soft. Nice.

Speaker I brought that to her and she just loved that she'd cuddle it. And she talked, baby, talk to it.

Speaker I got such a kick out of it. And after she died, I asked them to give it to me a little bit like cuddle it to. You got me going here.

Speaker She said she would go for drives.

Speaker Yes. She had a beautiful rolls and a driver and on her birthday. Well, she went every day and she loved riding around a little further than the neighborhood. And I live the last birthday it was we. She asked me if I wanted to come along. So I sat in the back of the car with the nurse and she sat in the front with the driver. And that day, because it was her birthday, well, not only because it was her birthday, but all the time the rate the radio was playing, the jazz stations would be playing her records. And we had it on in the car. And she would slap her little fingers and turned around to me every once in a and say, that's totally fine again. Well, that's generally Dylan.

Speaker So, you know, and she knew and this was kind of late. In her life, she knew everything that was going on.

Speaker And that was when she stopped for ice cream. She had yogurt. And it was nice.

Speaker Now, the, uh, finally she, uh, she really was confined to her bed. Right. Could you talk about that?

Speaker Well, she was in the hospital, too. And then they brought her home and she was in a coma and she was up in her bedroom. Beautiful bedroom. Flowers. Oh, I saw the flowers when they arrived one day from Oscar Peterson, big hundreds of roses. And I sat down next to her on her bed and I sang to her. And I talked to her. And I did sing to her. And I. I don't know, maybe she heard me. Some doctors say that sometimes they can hear you. But it felt so good about it. And there was a trio playing in the house. Did anybody tell you this? I think that was the most effective thing. She was upstairs. Downstairs there was a trio and they played all the time. And I don't know if she heard it, but we heard it. And it was just such a tribute to her who arranged for that? I have no idea. I have no idea. What did you sing to sing a disk of a task that would bring something back.

Speaker And I sang a song that I sing in my act that was specially written. It's called The Ladies Who Sang with the Bands. It's a piece of special material about us girls singers, and it's awfully clever.

Speaker It was written by Lee Hale and I sing it almost wherever I appear. And she had sung that to her before because she didn't know it and she loved it. So I sang. That was hours ago.

Speaker It starts out with. There were big bands and small bands and combos and such. Back in the forties, we love them so much. There were sections of brass, reeds and rhythm.

Speaker And one more ingredient that always was with him in front of the stand facing Swingers Square was the ladies who sang with the bands sitting all night on those hard folding chairs. US ladies was saying with the bands and it goes on like that, all truisms. We did sit on hard folding chairs except what we played in lush places.

Speaker It was it was nice. So she heard this song before. Yes. Well, that must have. She loved it. Yeah. She loved.

Speaker So the. What was actually wrong with her? What? Why was she? She had diabetes. She had the eye. Detached retina. Situation long before she had diabetes. And she lost her legs. It was as tragic as it can get. Do you think when you when you said they're. Do you think she heard you?

Speaker I hope so. I don't know. I've heard that sometimes people in a coma can hear. I talked to her, I said. You must be in a very nice place. I said to her. And I said, I hope you're happy there and you got me crying. That's not nice.

Speaker So.

Speaker Ellen died. How did you hear about that?

Speaker Well, it died. I had a phone call. We knew it was going to happen.

Speaker And she had a glorious service at home in the back yard, quote, unquote. And everybody was there. And then when we went to the cemetery with several police escorts and the traffic stopped and the red lights didn't mean a thing, we just went through everything because that was Ella Fitzgerald.

Speaker Can you describe the service, sir?

Speaker There was a rethink, was there a priest? Not sure, but her famous bass player who worked with her many times over the years spoke. And, oh, Natalie Cole. They were all there. They didn't perform or speak. I'm trying to remember who else spoke. Couple of musicians.

Speaker And then when we all went for the ride.

Speaker What's the trio played? Excuse me? The trio is playing the one that played upstairs fairly serious.

Speaker What was your favorite Ella Fitzgerald song?

Speaker I really don't have any. I. Everything she did was wonderful for me. I mean, people ask me, what is your favorite song? And I say, whatever I'm singing at that time is my favorite song. And that's the way I like to bring myself in so much. But that's the way I felt about whatever she sang a ballad of blues rhythm. Scott. They were all favorites.

Speaker If you were going to walk or put a record.

Speaker Yeah, I guess I would be one of the Gershwin things or Cole Porter things with those albums that she did of the famous composers. Those are the things I liked. I loved when she sang a ballad because as I said before, she had a mellow quality that was unmatchable.

Speaker If such a word.

Speaker We interviewed a lady who said that was like revolutionary to two blacks, a black singer doing a songbook.

Speaker I mean, really changed. Right.

Speaker But I don't know. I know we never discussed racism or black or white or anything like that.

Speaker We just didn't. And if somebody said it was revolutionary.

Speaker Maybe it was she was just good and sang those songs better than anybody else.

Speaker What do you think is the legacy? What did it leave us? All of us.

Speaker I left a lot for children. There were children's homes throughout the country named for Ella. She contributed a great deal of money to them and to other charities. She was very, very supportive of the society of singers. Truly, we were very proud of that. But as far as singing is concerned, that's probably what you mean. She just left the sounds that she made that weren't incredible and nobody could stop her. I mean, there was a Sinatra. He was a boy. But she beat all the rest of us.

Speaker Is there anything that you'd like to add? No, I think I'm talking too much about not saying anything. You're saying a lot. Very good. I missed you.

Speaker So, uh.

Speaker Now, I know I was saying when you gave her a step back.

Speaker Oh, she would go for for a cup of tea and I would go home. Go put your foot. You put me.

Speaker That's what she said. That was adorable. Adorable. You know, there are a lot of stuffed animals that are hard, not not sweet. But this I picked it out. It was so soft and so lovely. And she put it up to her face and she said the good cheek. That was dear.

Speaker That's lovely. Yeah.

Speaker If you want me to, I can get that little animal and send the driver vulnerable.

Speaker I think that what it is. You like it. Thank you. It's too late.

Speaker Well, when you travel with a band, it's it's an experience. I've had a lot of experiences. I was very young, you know, and I was the only girl with like 17 men. And they were really good to me. I must say, because I did. I was married when I traveled with the band and they all knew Andre and they all took care of me for him. But we would get hungry and nobody would stop. The driver would be the band manager was always drunk and we weren't allowed to stop and get some food and we'd get to the gig and we'd get there just at that time to start. And I had to be gorgeous. I had to have a gown and I had a dress in the back of the bus, literally, and then we'd go to play the colleges. As I said before we go to Princeton. And I had to dress in the boys locker room or in the back of the bus. I mean, that was my choice. And I had to look nice, you know, and I would get in front of a band and all these beautiful Ausra news were dancing. And I wondered how they did, you know. But now we get caught in snow up in the north, we get stuck.

Speaker And one time they put me behind the wheel and the band had to go push the bus out of the out of the snow. And I didn't know that the emergency brake was on. I mean, I didn't ever. It was fun. And we played cards a lot. When we could on the bus, you said baseball players have their language musicians. Well, musicians have their own vernacular. I mean, I feel that way. And when my husband was with the Dodgers in 54 and 55, I traveled with them a little bit in the spring training because I was free. And baseball players talk. They want language the same as musicians talk their world language and baseball players. They're also a crazy bunch. And we have to sing on the bus. Tommy Lasorda liked to sing and, you know, I was a singer, so we all sang and I sang The Star-Spangled Banner a few times for them. Luddin Big time. But in spring training. And that was the.

Speaker I love that. Yeah, she was a big fan. Oh, yeah.

Speaker Yeah, well, she used to listen to the games. That's something I forgot to mention. She really did listen to the games and put them on the one of the season started on TV.

Speaker Was she one of those active baseball fans?

Speaker Oh, at that point, she wasn't to act, but she did turn them on and make sure that she could hear them and watch them.

Speaker Okay, I get it. Just be quiet, please. No room tell on. Thank you. Thanks. Great. Good. You. Nicely done. It wasn't too specific. I don't think so.

Bea Wain
Interview Date:
1999-04-03
Runtime:
0:31:51
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-hm52f7kg2t
MLA CITATIONS:
"Bea Wain, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 03 Apr. 1999, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/509
APA CITATIONS:
(1999, April 03). Bea Wain, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/509
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Bea Wain, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). April 03, 1999. Accessed May 26, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/509

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