The most popular jazz singer in America for nearly half a century, Ella Fitzgerald became affectionally known as the “First Lady of Song” and “Lady Ella.” She recorded thousands of songs, many of which became American treasures, like her number one hits, “A-Ticket, A-Tasket” (1938) and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” (both 1938.)
Her fascinating life story has been now brought to the stage by actor/singer/choreographer Maurice Hines, a legend in his own right, who directs the show and reveals Ella’s rise to stardom through the voice of singer Freda Payne. Payne’s remarkable portrayal convincingly and elegantly captures the immortality of America’s jazz legend.
When “Ella: The First Lady of Song” opens at the Delaware Theatre Company on April 18th, theatre guests will be transported to nightclub where ‘Ella’ bellows familiar melodies and commands their attention. The show then takes a look back, beginning with her childhood struggles of living with abuse and her time on the streets through her career as the preeminent jazz singer of her time.
Maurice Hines shares with us his pride and inspiration for conceiving of this tribute to an African-American icon.
Q: What was your first interaction with ELLA? Did you work with her?
Maurice Hines: Yes, my brother Gregory, my father, and I performed with the great Ella Fitzgerald at The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada twice.
Q: What in particular inspired you to tell her story? What about her voice and music caught your ear?
Hines: Everything about Ella, both personally and professionally, inspired me to say ‘thank you’ to her for sharing her monumental gift as the greatest singer I’ve ever heard. That’s why I’m directing this show.
Q: Your happiness is contagious when you perform. It’s clear you’re home on stage. What excites you about being a director? Are there any challenges?
Hines: I love directing as long as it’s a project that excites me to the degree that my creativity is effortless, and I’m inspired by the subject. Just saying the great ‘Ella Fitzgerald’ name, and all of my talents come forward to pay my love and respect to the wonderful lady I knew so well.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity to thank her for being so wonderful to my family when we worked with her. Truly, one of the great moments in my life, in and out of show business, was being in the presence of genuine greatness! Ella you’re just the best!
Q: Why did you choose DTC and/or Wilmington for the telling of ELLA’s story?
Hines: I chose DTC for the Ella Fitzgerald bio/musical for two reasons. The first is Bud Martin as the Executive Director of DTC, and, having performed my own show Tappin’ Thru Life, I knew Ella would receive a first-class production. Bud’s whole team are not only totally professional, but they’re also unbelievably creative and contribute fantastic suggestions on how Ella’s story will come alive on the wonderful DTC stage.
Last but not least are the DTC audiences. Having experience their love for the theatre first hand and having worked with Ella myself with my brother Gregory and my father, I know she would be proud that her life will be produced by a theatre that has the class that she always exemplified. I feel honored and proud to direct the wonderful Freda Payne in Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song at the—I’ll say it again—fabulous Delaware Theatre Company for the fabulous Delaware Theatre Company audiences, and—of course—the fabulous Bud Martin. I’m gonna have a ball!
Q&A courtesy of the Delaware Theatre Company