This painting by Beauford Delaney out of all his portraits of fellow artists really stuck out to me, not just because it is a beautiful piece, but I wonder why he chose to obscure the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald amongst this colorful palate of brushstrokes. Delaney’s work transitioned from figurative to abstract upon his move to Paris to flee the persecution and isolation he felt in New York as a gay black man in the 1940’s. This piece seems to demonstrate the artists transition.
One thing I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald was that she was horribly shy and extremely meek when it came to recognizing her own talent. This is so shocking to me for someone who is so universally cherished for their talent. Perhaps what was more shocking to me was a comment I heard in an NPR interview featuring a singer from the Manhattan Transfer that said, “I never listen to Ella for emotional depth”….
… and she proceeded to laud Fitzgerald for her technical prowess and the precision of her voice. WHAT? Without question Fitzgerald has one of the most dynamic, precise voices but to dismiss it as lacking emotional depth was strange to me.
That blew me away. I look at this painting of Beauford Delaney and listen to Ella Fitzgerald with this new knowledge of her shyness and hear something very different in her music. Taken together, I hear so much more than Janice Siegal manages to distill and I have a deeper, more profound appreciation for what Delaney conveys in this portrait of her.