Much appreciation to my dancer friend Rebecca Shannon for her research into the life of Ella Fitzgerald who provided some of the best dance music ever. Here is Rebecca’s article:
Ella Fitzgerald was 21 and on the road with Chick Webb’s band in Boston when she was inspired by a nursery rhyme. The band was broadcast live every night and a great deal of pressure was put on the musicians to come up with new material each week. Here’s the story of how A-Tisket, A-Tasket came about.
Van Alexander was a young arranger for Chick Webb’s band beginning in 1936. He was learning how to arrange music and hanging out at the Savoy Ballroom when he got up enough nerve to approach Webb about working for him. Webb couldn’t read music and had an incredible ear but he couldn’t write the arrangements for the band. Alexander passed muster and began creating arrangements for Webb, The band was playing and recording frequently and he soon found himself creating three or four arrangements a week to satisfy the publishers of the music they were playing.
The band traveled to Boston to play the Flamingo Room in 1938 and the sets were broadcast coast to coast. Alexander was busy making three new arrangements a week when Ella Fitzgerald came to him with an idea for a new song based on the old nursery rhyme A-tisket, A-tasket. In Alexander’s words, ” What I did was put it into form, a 32 bar song. I put the release, the bridge to it, and all the novelty things to it and I brought it up to Boston and Ella and I went over it and she changed a lot of the words. I had written, in the middle part, “She was walkin’ on down the avenue, without a single thing to do.”, and Ella said, “Let’s say she was truckin’ on down the avenue” not walkin’, truckin’, cause that was a big word in those days, you know. She changed a few other lyrics also. Well, they put it on the air that night, and somebody called Robbins Music in New York and asked them to take [an acetate] off the air. They did and they got very excited about it, and two weeks later they returned to New York, to Decca Records and recorded it, May 2, 1938. It was a big hit that summer and was on the Hit Parade, which the big radio show in those days and it stayed #1 for 19 weeks.”
A-Tisket, A-Tasket was the first number one hit for Ella as the vocalist for Chick Webb’s band.