In an effort to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald’s Centennial and the great music that she and equally-iconic singer Louis Armstrong created, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will pay honor to both artists by ending its popular Pops series by adding “Louis and Ella: All That Jazz” to its PSO Pops show docket.
“We were inspired to collaborate with Byron Stripling and Marva Hicks. Their tribute to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald is popular among orchestras due to the power of the ‘Louis and Ella’ repertoire and the amazing talent and artistry of Stripling and Hicks,” explained Rachel Howard, director of popular programming at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
The symphony’s Pops shows feature the orchestra performing music from genres other than classical, either as a solo ensemble or with a guest artist or group from Rock, Broadway, movie music and more.
The Pittsburgh Symphony’s great woodwind and bass sections in addition to its lush string section is why trumpeter Stripling is excited to be returning to Pittsburgh to perform alongside the orchestra and Broadway singer Marva Hicks in the “Louis and Ella: All That Jazz” show, which swings into Heinz Hall this weekend, June 16-18. Lawrence Loh will serve as the show’s conductor and the title sponsor is PNC Bank.
“I’ve played with the PSO before and we always have a great time performing in Pittsburgh,” said Stripling. As producer and show performer, he hopes a new audience will come hear Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s music as well as take the artists’ fans on a trip down memory lane, back to a simpler time.
“You only have to mention Louis and Ella’s first names and people know who they are. This show is about us expressing who we are through the spirit of their music,” continued Stripling, who performed with Lady Ella off and on in various bands. However, he did not get to meet Sachmo, but was introduced to his music as a child by his classical singer father who enjoyed the soothing sounds of Jazz when he returned to his Detroit home after being on the road.
Audiences will be treated to some of both Armstrong and Fitzgerald’s most popular songs like “What a Wonderful World” and “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” as well as songs from the 1958 “Ella and Louis” album the powerhouses recorded together and much more. Stripling and Hicks will perform some songs as a duet and others singularly.
Hicks is a seasoned performer. The Petersburg, Virginia-born singer first got her start singing in her grandfather, E.E. Hicks’ church. The Howard University alum landed her first recording contract while still a student there and was most recently seen in the Broadway smash, “Motown the Musical.” She can also be seen in Netflix’s “House of Cards” opposite Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
“Louis and Ella lifted us all up. Musicians are always trying to get us to another level and we heard the passion in Louis’ voice on “What a Wonderful World” and we felt that Joy with Ella, too, whether it was Gershwin’s ‘Porgy & Bess’ or Cole Porter, you could feel that happiness. That’s what it means to be an American. They both taught us a great lesson,” said Stripling, a graduate of Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Academy and a student of Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. The Atlanta native and Ohio resident never completed his music degree because he landed a job with the incomparable Lionel Hampton while still a student. Stripling does teach students at the music school when his schedule allows.
“If there’s a mission I have in life it’s to bring people together through music,” said Stripling who enjoys reading biographies, exercising and spending time with his daughter when he isn’t touring. “When I’m on stage I share my love for great music.”
Tickets for this weekend’s “Louis and Ella: All the Jazz” can be purchased by visitingwww.pittsburghsymphonyorchestra.org or calling (412) 392-4900.