On April 25, 1917, one of the most iconic vocalists of our time was born—Ella Fitzgerald. This year, the world celebrates the centennial of the "First Lady of Song" and the legacy Ella left behind. For the eighth year in a row, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will fill its Kogod Courtyard with a celebration of her music on Saturday, April 29, thanks to the generous support of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation. The Duke Ellington School of the Arts' New Washingtonians Jazz Ensemble will open the concert at 2 p.m., playing some music by Ella and one of her musical collaborators, Duke Ellington. At 3 p.m., Sharón Clark will take the stage, paying homage to Ella's repertoire.
Clark is a jazz vocalist who performs all over the United States and Europe. She has headlined the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, the Cape May Jazz Festival, and the Savannah Music Festival. She won the Gold Medal at the Savannah Music Festival's American Traditions Competition and took first place in the Billie Holiday Vocal Competition. In preparation for the concert, I asked Sharón a few questions to reflect on the birthday honoree.
Eye Level: How long have you been performing?
Sharón Clark: I started singing at the age of seven at Woodlawn United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. I continued in elementary through high school. And, I studied classically with Jack Murray and Rosella Homan.
EL: How has Ella Fitzgerald inspired or influenced your artistry?
SC: Ella inspired and influenced me in a personal way. She always had a weight problem and suffered sexism in horrible ways. On her way up, people said some of the cruelest things about her physical appearance. She hurt because of the remarks, but she didn't let it stop her. I took encouragement from that because I've been hurt in the same way. She let her beauty shine through her talent.
EL: What are some of the legacies Ella left behind?
SC: Ella's legacy is her ability to scat sing! To this day, there is no one like her!
EL: What is your favorite Ella song? And what's your favorite Ella song to perform?
SC: My favorite Ella recording is "Mack The Knife." I like the live recording because she screwed up the verses but kept right on going. I love it because I've done the same thing on occasion. It's so HUMAN!
EL: How do you think people will be paying tribute to Ella in the next 100 years?
SC: People will celebrate Ella in the next 100 years just like they celebrate Bach or Beethoven. She was innovative, a creator, and master of jazz vocals. She is and will continue to be my teacher.
SAAM's celebration of Ella Fitzgerald begins Saturday, April 29, at 2 p.m. in the museum's Kogod Courtyard. Admission is free.