Alter Egos 5 – Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald - in her prime

Ella Fitzgerald might be a late developer. When she ran in the maiden for three year olds at Windsor yesterday it was only her second race. Nothing compared with her rivals Homeboy and Lupo Doro, who had already run 21 and 16 times respectively. She showed promise, as she had done when a beaten favourite on her Kempton debut last month.

This time, the market was clear that less was expected of her, so it was a pleasure to see her up with the pace from the outset, although she had nothing more to give in the final furlong. Another run and trainer Rae Guest will be able to send her handicapping next year.

Unlike many horses, her name doesn’t have an obvious link to that of her sire, Moss Vale, or her dam, Grand Slam Maria. The closest connection is that she has a half brother called King Of Jazz, and an alter ego who was known as the “Queen of Jazz.”

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Ella Fitzgerald won’t have as long a career as her singing counterpart, who gave her last performance in 1993 at the grand age of 76. By that time her voice had declined in quality, not surprisingly as she was 76 years old by then, 26 years old in equine terms.

Known also as the “First Lady of Song” the wonderful American singer had a career lasting almost 60 years. During that time she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. That’s some going! The range of her voice, a remarkable three octaves, was greater than most opera singers. I suppose it’s the equivalent of a racehorse being at home over distance from 5 furlongs to 2 miles or more at any age. It just doesn’t happen. She was a remarkably fluent singer, pure toned, and able to adapt her voice to new developments in jazz style. She started off as a big band singer, and had her first breakthrough in 1938 with a song she co-wrote, based on the nursery rhyme A Tisket, A Tasket.

During the 1940s she had a steady solo career, as well as continuing to work with several of the major bandleaders, particularly Dizzy Gillespie. This was the time when she began scat singing, improvising random syllables along with the instrumentalists. Fitzgerald described herself as trying “to do with my voice what I heard the horns in the band doing.”

During the 1950s Fitzgerald recorded a series of eight albums called “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, and these, along with a similar album of Duke Ellington songs cemented her place in the annals of jazz history.

In 2007 her face appeared on a 39-cent postage stamp in America’s Black Heritage series. Somehow, I can’t see that kind of recognition to a modest three-year-old filly.

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