Amid the Ella Fitzgerald centennial celebrations, few note that she revived her career by consciously ‘whitening’ her vocal style in her nine Songbook albums.
Starting in 1956, she laid down the canon for the great (and mostly white) popular song composers and lyricists of the previous generation. Ella and her contemporaries would have been shocked that a new twenty-first-century blood-and-soil elite would try to dictate who could sing (and wear and eat) what. As the civil rights movement gathered force, that’s what she was musically trying to destroy. Cultural appropriation is the essence of American music and American culture.