When Front Page Challenge met Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald knew singing. And in 1970 she told a CBC game show who she thought did it best.

Jazz vocalist was in Toronto for a two-week run at the Royal York Hotel in 1970

The FPC panel guesses

51 years ago
The Front Page Challenge panel makes quick work of their task identifying Ella Fitzgerald. 0:37

Ella Fitzgerald knew singing. And in 1970 she told CBC viewers who she thought did it best.

But first the panel had to guess who they were talking to — and it didn't take long, even though Fitzgerald disguised her voice as a guest on CBC's Front Page Challenge on Sept. 21, 1970.

"That music ... sounds like a very flamboyant part of show business," said journalist Betty Kennedy, referring to the live accompaniment to the career recap that let the audience in on the secret.

"Are you a figure in show business?"

Long career

Ella Fitzgerald is seen on the set of the Jackie Rae Show on CBC-TV in 1956. (Eric Lawson/CBC Still Photo Collection)

Fitzgerald, then 53, had been in show business all her adult life after winning a talent show at the age of 15, according to her 1996 obituary in the Globe and Mail.

Now she was in Toronto to perform a two-week run of 24 sold-out shows at the city's Imperial Room at the Royal York Hotel, as the Globe and Mail wrote later that week. 

"It's got to be Ella Fitzgerald," said Pierre Berton as the audience erupted into applause and laughter.

The headline the panel was supposed to guess was related to Fitzgerald's Grammy wins in 1961. But the discussion was much broader when the panel got their chance to interview her after a commercial. 

Legal case

The lawsuit Ella Fitzgerald won

51 years ago
In 1970, singer Ella Fitzgerald tells the Front Page Challenge panel about a discrimination case she launched against an airline. 1:07

"You were involved in a lawsuit and sued an airline company for racial discrimination," said Kennedy. "What ever happened to that?"

She was referring to a 1964 incident in which, according to the Globe and Mail, Fitzgerald and two members of her team had not been able to complete a flight to Australia after a stopover in Hawaii "to make room for white passengers."

"We won," said Fitzgerald. "We won a nice settlement, but my manager ... felt that the important thing was to prove our point. We really had tickets on the airline."

Kennedy asked if she would do it again.

"Yes, if I think a person is wrong," said Fitzgerald. "Our tickets had said all the way to Australia ... and it was just the three of us that they knocked off."

Fitzgerald's favourites

Ella Fitzgerald's favourite artists

51 years ago
The renowned singer tells the Front Page Challenge panel about who she likes to listen to. 1:54

Elsewhere in the interview, Berton asked Fitzgerald who her own favourite singers were.

"I like vocalists for different reasons," she said. "I think everybody has a different style."

But she said she liked the vocal stylings of Rod McKuen (a poet and the original singer of Seasons in the Sun), Tony Bennett and Nat "King" Cole.

"And there are some fellows that never became popular," she added. "A fellow named Johnny Hartman, who I think is a very beautiful singer." 

She also said she'd gotten along "beautifully" with Frank Sinatra when they worked on a TV special together.

The conversation then ranged to women singers including Pearl Bailey, Leontyne Price and Barbra Streisand. 

"I think Barbra will last because ...she's very careful in what she chooses for herself," said Fitzgerald. "She's not the type of person to be discouraged. She has the voice, she has the talent."

"I've always been told that [songs] that are simple, things that people can understand, last a little longer."  

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now