In one seemingly simple sentence, musician Laura Mvula concisely sums up the everlasting appeal of Ella Fitzgerald: “She made it seem like anything is possible.” Norma Miller was in the audience the night Fitzgerald made her debut at the Apollo Theatre, and she laughs at the memory of booing the then-unknown performer. She also recalls that the moment Fitzgerald opened her mouth to sing, the boos were replaced with a silence “so quiet you could hear a rat piss on cotton.” From swing, to novelty recordings, to Be-Bop and beyond, Ella made a career out of reinventing herself. Ella was confronted by the evils of racism firsthand. She was allowed to live in Beverly Hills, but only when her producer Norman Granz’s name was on the lease. Never one to mix politics with pleasure, she only once publicly voiced her thoughts on the subject; the radio interview never aired. (Pieces are included in the film.) One wishes there were more clips of Ella performing — perhaps securing the rights proved too costly. And at 90 minutes, it sometimes feels more like a checklist of career highs instead of a comprehensive biodoc. (2019) — Scott Marks
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