Ella Fitzgerald was one of America’s most popular jazz singers, winning 13 Grammy Awards and selling over 40 million albums with her flexible, wide and timeless voice. She has also faced many challenges throughout her career, from losing her mother to being a runaway teenager, to discrimination in the entertainment industry and on tour.
The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation was established and funded by the “First Lady of Song” herself in 1993, driven by her desire to use her successful music career to help others interested in music from diverse backgrounds. What started out as a small private foundation has grown over the years.
The foundation awarded its first scholarship in vocal jazz to California State University, Long Beach almost 20 years ago. Since then, the foundation has funded scholarships at public universities and community colleges across the country, including New York City, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Beginning in fall 2021, the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation will partner with the USC School of Dramatic Arts to offer four-year scholarships to two new freshman musical theater students. The aim of the program is to make education more accessible to marginalized students with financial need.
The Musical Theater Scholarship for SDA Students will be the 30th scholarship that the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation has endowed, as well as the first scholarship awarded for a musical theater program. The scholarship will also be the first to be received by the SDA Musical Theater Program, launched in fall 2019. According to Executive Director Fran Morris-Rosman, the Foundation has awarded partial scholarships to students at USC Thornton School of Music in the pass.
“If you think back to the history of music, the history of jazz is pretty darn color blind,” Morris-Rosman said. “Ella worked with everyone… She worked with musicians all over the world, who looked like everyone else we have on the planet, so we want the musical theater department to reflect Ella’s world.”
Morris-Rosman said the Foundation had been looking to include a musical theater scholarship for about a year, since Fitzgerald had performed many Broadway show tunes during his career. After enjoying the SDA production of “City of Angels” in 2012, as well as excellent conversations with Kenneth Noel Mitchell, director of musical theater at USC, Morris-Rosman decided to continue Fitzgerald’s charitable legacy. Fitzgerald was also awarded the USC Magnum Opus Prize in 1992.
According to Sara Fousekis, associate dean of advancement at SDA, the scholarship will be awarded to Blacks, Indigenous people and people of color, in line with the school’s commitment to educate more BIPOC students.
“This will allow us to provide scholarships to incoming students for generations to come, but it will also allow us to achieve our goal of ensuring that our program is the most diverse program possible,” said Fousekis. “These scholarships from a foundation like Ella Fitzgerald [Charitable Foundation] are so crucial because sometimes that’s the difference between a student being able to use their finances to come and pursue their dreams in the arts.
Fousekis also hopes the scholarship will be an incentive to recruit top talent from around the world and compete with other reputable programs such as the University of Michigan and New York University.
“I hope this will allow us to be a program more accessible to the wider student [representations] around the world, ”Fousekis said. “I hope this creates a sense of pride for academics attached to this legend of Ella Fitzgerald, and I hope this will be the start of many more scholarships for the musical theater program.”
According to Mitchell, the response from students to the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation scholarship has been very positive. He hopes this will make students from marginalized communities feel less isolated and more optimistic about their future.
“We hope to change the face of musical theater,” Mitchell said. “It’s a wider range of representations of identities that we see every day in society, but we don’t see as much on stage, in movies and on TV as we should – and that’s because there are not enough creative opportunities available. “
Mitchell also said he hoped that the stock market, along with Fitzgerald’s history and mark on an industry that does not welcome BIPOC individuals, demonstrate the importance of recognizing the many diverse identities that exist that do not have not the possibility of financing their training.
“I really hope we diversify our student body and faculty,” Mitchell said. “I really hope we will be known as a school that not only welcomes diversity, but is passionate about it, and allows actors of all identities to truly know that they have a place to train and a place to be seen. in the entertainment industry. “
To learn more about the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, click on here.