Ella Fitzgerald – loneliness and a Sheffield hotel room

“Coming through the years, and finding that I not only have just the fans of my day, but the young ones of today — that’s what it means, it means it was worth all of it.” – Ella Fitzgerald (1917 – 1996)

“If you really wanna know what lonely is, ask an expert, I know!”

This line appeared in ‘Lonely is,’ sung by Ella Fitzgerald in 1968.

These expressive words came to mind after receiving the following story from Ian Bright, whose family lineage goes back to Sir John Bright (1619-1688), a Parliamentarian of Carbrook and Badsworth.

“I spent nearly fifty years in the now nearly defunct cutlery and silverware industry.

“During the 1970s, our then company secretary asked me to take a telephone call from a foreign lady he couldn’t understand.

“I said hello, to which the response came, ‘Hi, this is Ella Fitzgerald. I’m staying at the Grosvenor House Hotel, and have seen some cutlery in your showcase, and could someone come and see me.’

“It was one of the quickest responses to a sales request ever, and minutes later I was knocking on the door of her suite.

“She made me very welcome, and explained she’d spotted some imitation bone white handle cutlery that she thought would be ideal for breakfast use. Business was concluded very quickly, but it was only the start.

“Ella was tired and lonely and obviously wanted company. In the centre of the room was a table full of pills, potions, and fruit. She wore glasses with thick lenses and explained that singing in smoke-filled clubs with glaring lights had taken its toll on her, and the constant travelling made her want to be back home with her family.

“I asked her why she still did it, and she replied with conviction. ‘FOR THE FANS.’

“We chatted about families and life for ages, and I left feeling humbled and lucky to have spent quality time with the best lady jazz singer the world has ever seen.”

Ian believes that this was Ella Fitzgerald’s last UK tour, and at this time, she began to experience serious health problems, but continued to perform periodically, even after heart surgery in 1986.

In 1993, however, her career was curtailed following complications stemming from diabetes, which resulted in the amputation of both her legs below the knees. She died three years later.

I can trace this story to 1974, when she headlined at the Fiesta on Arundel Gate (now Odeon Luxe).

The Grosvenor House Hotel, once Sheffield’s finest, fell on hard times, and was demolished in 2017, replaced with the office block called Grosvenor House, occupied by HSBC, as part of the Heart of the City redevelopment.

Ella Fitzgerald at the Fiesta in 1974. Image: Stuart Penney/Twitter
Opened in 1966 the Grosvenor House Hotel was a familiar landmark of the Sheffield city skyline. Image: Sheffield Star

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.