Ella Fitzgerald (1994)

Ella book cover24985186._UY200_

United States Edition                United Kingdom Edition





‘Stuart Nicholson’s Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz…included so much documented factual material…that the book currently stands as the most authoritative biography about her. Nicholson’s book is, for the most part, used as a criterion for accuracy and virtually everything written about Ella before it appeared must be revised.’  THE ELLA FITZGERALD COMPANION (OMNIBUS PRESS, NEW YORK)

‘In the words of Stuart Nicholson in Ella Fitzgerald, she disappears into the song, which makes biography a tricky enterprise. Mr. Nicholson does a very fine job with Ms. Fitzgerald. To his everlasting credit, he reveals the facts behind the singer forthrightly but never gloatingly. It was much harder than it seemed, becoming Ella Fitzgerald: finding the golden mean between girlish ebullience and matronly calm that suited her temperament but also became her shield.’ MARGO JEFFERSON, THE NEW YORK TIMES (USA)

‘The first factually reliable account of Ms. Fitzgerald’s life.’ WALL STREET JOURNAL (USA)

[Nicholson] proves uncommonly objective for a biographer.’ CHICAGO TRIBUNE (USA)

‘When it comes to the music, Nicholson is right on.’ WASHINGTON POST (USA)

‘Excellent…[Nicholson] avidly communicates the luminosity and swing of the Fitzgerald sound.’ THE SEATTLE TIMES (USA)

‘Fondly detailing every hit and miss of her concert career, Nicholson pays harmonious variations on a deceptively simple theme’. THE MAIL ON SUNDAY (UK)

‘A biography of erudition and style…a model, not only of research but of musical insight.’  THE OBSERVER (UK)

‘Nicholson is a jazz buff and a shrewd critic.’ THE TIMES (UK)

‘The First Lady of Song is more than deserving of a full-length biography, and English musician-critic Nicholson is erudite and intelligent…the best passages are those that analyse Fitzgerald’s unique singing style. He brings a musician’s insight to these sections and even the die-hard Fitzgerald fan will learn something new from them…his musical analyses enliven his language, and his treatment of his subject’s human and musical strengths and weaknesses is well balanced.’ KIRKUS REVIEWS (USA)

‘Nicholson has composed a full narrative…that will fascinate jazz book junkies, fans of Ella and jazz historians in particular…The book excels as a detailed chronicle of her career triumphs with sensitive analyses of her style, sound and development…a boon to serious students of jazz.’ WOMAN’S REVIEW OF BOOKS (USA)

‘This book is a labor of love…impressive.’ BOOKPAGE (USA)

‘This is a well researched, gracefully written biography.’ BOOKLIST (USA)

‘Recommended.’ LIBRARY JOURNAL (USA)

‘[An] exhaustive biography…the result is a thorough, dispassionate account of [her] career.’ PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY (USA)


‘Nicholson’s musical analysis is always enlightening, exploding a number of myths.’ BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE (UK)

‘That rarity among jazz biographies: a thoroughly researched and carefully considered study of an artist that is also a delightful read…On every page, really, the critically perceptive writer advances our understanding of the music and of the premier female interpreter of the popular song, not to mention an America filled with racial prejudice.’ DOWNBEAT (USA)

‘A splendidly researched biography.’ LEONARD FEATHER, JAZZ TIMES (USA)

‘Meticulously researched…[and] most revealing, too. Just to state that this book is a full account of this splendid lady’s life and times barely hints at the depth and detail which the indefatigable Nicholson has unearthed…A triumph!’ CRESCENDO & JAZZ MUSIC (UK)

‘For accuracy and depth, Nicholson knock’s spots off earlier attempts at Ella’s biography.’ THE WIRE (UK)

‘This is a well written, meticulously documented, honest book. The musical analyses thorough, intelligent, and carefully considered…most importantly, any reader, from those casually acquainted with Ella’s work to those thoroughly immersed in it, will come away with a clearer image of the woman, her music and its significance.’ MISSISSIPPI RAG (USA)

‘This biography of Ella Fitzgerald undoubtedly places others well and truly in the shade… Altogether this is a very good, well researched, well written addition to the jazz bookshelf. Nicholson brings new life and perceptive insight to the life and career of one of the greatest singing talents the world has known.’ JAZZ JOURNAL (UK)

‘One of the most interesting jazz biographies of the late twentieth century…a titanic work by the author.’ JAZZ FORUM (POLAND)

‘One of the finest jazz nonfiction books concerning a female jazz vocalist.’ JAZZREVIEW.COM (USA)

‘One of the best biographies of a jazz performer ever written.’ STAGE AND TELEVISION TODAY (UK)

Ella Fitzgerald is one of the very best biographies of any great American singer ever published.’ WILL FRIEDWALD (AUTHOR, JAZZ SINGING(USA)

‘The typical writer about jazz either knows much about the subject at hand but cannot write coherently or writes well and has little of value to say. Stuart Nicholson, however, knows whereof he speaks and writes with a sense of style that makes it a pleasure to read his book… [his] biography is organized chronologically and primarily utilizes his own research…and the results are gratifying…The book is fascinating and entertaining, and there is no better work about Fitzgerald.’ eNotes, (USA)

‘Not much was known about her early life before Stuart Nicholson’s groundbreaking biography, which featured new research and insights into the singer’s life from her friends and colleagues…a remarkable account.’ OFFTHESHELF.COM (USA)


Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz has been cited in numerous degree, doctoral dissertations and published academic papers including:* 

  • “A Dreadful Bit of Silliness”: Feminine Frivolity and Ella Fitzgerald’s Early Critical Reception
  • Sounds Like Home: Immigrant Musicians on the New York Jazz Scene
  • “Stone Cold Dead in the Market”: Domestic Violence and Americanized Calypso
  • Swing It Sister: The Influence of Female Jazz Musicians on Music and Society
  • Managing Stress for Optimal Performance
  • Mario Bauza: Swing Era Novelty and Afro-Cuban Authenticity
  • The Influence of Imperialism on Salmah Binti Ismail @ Saloma in Malaysia
  • Passing Tones: Shifting National, Social, and Musical Borders in Jazz Age Harlem
  • Teaching Jazz Voice Performance Eduction in Australian Secondary Schools: Investigating the Challenges
  • Cultural Imperialism and Popular Culture: Unveiling the Influence of Salmah Ismail
  • Making a “black Beverly Hills”: The struggle for housing equality in modern Los Angeles
  • Engineer, performer, producer: negotiations of constructed elements of sound and performance of a jazz recording 
  • Collaborative Crossover: Identifying Classical Vocal Collaborative Piano Practices in Jazz Vocal Accompanying
  • African Philosophy
  • Musical Analysis and Vocal Jazz: Investigating Form in Ella Fitzgerald s Solo in How High the Moon (1960)
  • Performances in Swing: A Cultural History of Women Singers of Big Bands, 1930s-1950s
  • Global Entomologies: Insects, Empires, and the ‘Synthetic Age’ in World History
  • Sing a song of difference: Connie Boswell and a discourse of disability in jazz
  • A Model of Collaborative Creativity: The Arrangements of Nelson Riddle for Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald
  • Playing Like a Man: The Struggle of Black Women in Jazz and the Feminist Movement
  • White Face, Black Voice: Race, Gender, and Region in the Music of the Boswell Sisters
  • ‘Who told you that lie?’: picturing Connie Boswell

*Details from  SemanticScholar.org and Researchgate

When ELLA FITZGERALD: A BIOGRAPHY OF  THE FIRST LADY OF JAZZ  first appeared in paperback in the United States of America  it was nominated a ‘Noteworthy Paperback of the Year’ in The New York Times Review of Books in both their summer and year end ‘New and Noteworthycollections

In 2003, Routledge acquired the rights for Ella Fitzgerald from Schirmer Books and asked for it be updated for what would then be its seventh English language paperback reprint. It included valuable  new research and on publication in 2004 ELLA FITZGERALD: THE COMPLETE BIOGRAPHY, it was hailed as A Classic of Jazz Literature and is Stuart Nicholson’s recommended version of the book.



Below is a photo of Ella Fitzgerald’s Yamaha upright piano that Count Basie and Duke Ellington once played in the Bonus Room of her Beverly Hills home. It now lives in the office of the ELLA FITZGERALD CHARITABLE FOUNDATION in Los Angeles, California. Note that a copy of the 1995 American paperback version of Stuart Nicholson’s biography of Ella Fitzgerald is resting on the upper register of the keyboard.

Ella's piano

The 1995 paperback version of Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz shown in the picture above was among Ella’s personal belongings that were passed to the ELLA FITZGERALD CHARITABLE FOUNDATION following her death on 15th June 1996 which suggests that she read  Stuart Nicholson’s biography  during her lifetime.

  • On November 25, 2009,  The New York Times ran the story, “Intimate Ella Fitzgerald, Rediscovered” that name-checked Stuart Nicholson. It read, “Mr. Seidel had been the head of Verve from 1982 to 2002…[and] was re-reading a biography of Fitzgerald by Stuart Nicholson. In the…discography…he was struck by how much was put down on tape at…the Crescendo Club. [It resulted in] Twelve Nights in Hollywood, a four-CD boxed set of Ella Fitzgerald singing 76 songs at the Crescendo…none of it ever released until now”. 
  • On October 2, 2020 Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes was released by Verve with liner notes by Stuart Nicholson prompting a major feature in The New York Times, that again name-checked Stuart Nicholson: “Ella Fitzgerald’s live recordings have always had a special power that her studio outings could only imply. As her biographer Stuart Nicholson put it, the best ones “reveal the real Ella, bringing pleasure to others so bringing pleasure to herself.”
  • Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz has registered over 2,500 reads on Researchgate, the European networking site for academics, scientists and researchers.
  •  @Ella Fitzgerald, The Official Fan Page Updated by Members of the Ella Fitzgerald Estate, tweeted, ‘Want to learn more about Ella? Here’s a biography written by Stuart Nicholson. I learned a lot.’