Toward the end of her life, Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song,” faced several health challenges, most stemming from her battle with diabetes. The effects of the disease resulted in the amputation of her legs, and famously contributed to the debilitation of her eyesight. (Who can forget her frequent television appearances, when each successive performance seemed to bring new eye wear fashion and a more powerful eyeglass prescription). But it was her respiratory ailments and congestive heart failure that brought some of the biggest names in jazz together for a fund raiser sponsored by the American Heart Association Avery Fisher Hall in February of 1990. Hosted by Lena Horne and violinist Itzhak Perlman, “Hearts For Ella” featured a Benny Carter-led band that included Stan Getz, Jimmy Heath, Phil Woods, Slide Hampton, Clark Terry, Red Rodney, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and Louis Bellson — an ensemble Carter called “a dream band.” Ella also took a turn on the bandstand that night, singing “Honeysuckle Rose” and, as an encore (“We could do another one,” she told Carter) “Lady Be Good,” joined by Joe Williams and Clark Terry.
In the February 14, 1990 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Steve Futterman wrote about the famous evening:
NEW YORK — Ella Fitzgerald received her valentines early this year. As much an open mash note as a benefit concert, Hearts for Ella — Monday night`s all-star gala for the American Heart Association — was an unabashed exhibition of love.
Fitzgerald came to Avery Fisher Hall merely as an honored guest;supposedly she was going to sit this one out. A handpicked jazz band was there to serenade her, and a host of singers and instrumentalists were on hand to offer tribute. Each song in the three-hour performance was a gift. The results were as musically spectacular as they were heartfelt.
To my knowledge, no recording or video exist of this event, so, here are a couple of pieces from Ella during that time period
“A House is Not a Home,” a 1990 performance
“Too Close For Comfort,” performed on a program honoring Sammy Davis, Jr. (Seeing her escorted on to the stage by Michael Jackson is noteworthy)