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Elli Fordyce's Story > Storyteller Feature

Featuring: Elli Fordyce
Written by: Tamar Burris
 

"The Real Meaning of Cool: A ‘Fledgling’ Jazz Career at 72" 


Comments: 8 Published on: Feb 24, 2009 Views: 36,061

Category: Inspirational



On April 1, 2007 (a day late), Elli Fordyce celebrated her 70th birthday true to form … she sang. Holding the microphone in her hand at The Jazz Gallery in New York City, Elli did a live show with some musician friends, something she had done thousands of times. But, this day was a little different. On this day, the jazz singer intended to record her second CD – live. (The publicized recording was unfortunately postponed due to illness in her Engineer/Producer’s family. Though all were saddened by the reason, the show did go on – and a lovely event it was. Note: A year later, work began on that CD that will be released in 2009.)  

 

Elli Fordyce fell hard for jazz as a young teen in New York City. A self-described “secret” singer ever since she was a toddler, Elli was introduced to jazz by a high school boyfriend whose stepfather welcomed them at his jam sessions in the early ’50s. Together they went to matinees to see famous musicians and singers at renowned jazz clubs. Cutting her first a cappella record in a public recording booth on Broadway for fifty cents when she was just fifteen, Elli seemed bound for an early spotlight.

 

Although Elli’s secret interest was in music, her parents were more focused on “college-prep,” and they enrolled her in Bronx High School of Science, never considering the alternative High School of Music and Art. Yet, despite her parents’ desires, Elli found a way to pursue her passions—by cutting classes. “During my three years at Science, I cut as much as possible to catch the frequent jam sessions held whenever musicians had free time or could themselves get out of class to play in the cafeteria or music room.”

 

In 1954, while she was still in high school, Elli’s family moved from the city and suddenly her world changed. “We moved to Cape Cod, to a tiny town with a tiny school and very different culture from eclectic New York, and with none of the freedom and flexibility public transportation had always provided. “Since I didn't drive until the end of that school year, I felt even more isolated than expected for a ‘new girl’ and missed New York and my friends on many levels, especially its jazz and musicians.” Even though her life was different on the Cape, Elli’s love for music did not wane. At 18, she began singing at a local club with a jazz trio. There, the leader took her under his wing and allowed her to sit in almost every night of Elli’s first summer out of high school. It was a magical summer, and the magic continued when she landed at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst that fall. At the Freshman Talent Show, Elli sang with a jazz trio in front of 1,000 students! She began sitting in with them at local gigs and events, happy to just sing whenever she could. However, one thing stood in the way of her future in the spotlight … her soon-to-be husband.


Elli and her boyfriend had met on the second day of freshman orientation. A junior, he was also at school that week as a member of the soccer team; and he was controlling, jealous, and possessive. Not exactly the best combination for a girl who wanted to shine! He didn’t want Elli to perform, and sadly, she acquiesced. “Since I didn't think I was good enough to make it, that gave me an excuse to not try. In those days, women didn't pursue their dreams if their husbands—we married between semesters—disapproved.
I chose to stop my seedling career ‘out of deference’ to my husband but actually did so as much because I was afraid I wasn't good enough to succeed. That mentality has been my biggest challenge, at which I've been chipping away for the next 67 years since getting the notion I didn't sing well enough.

 

Six years later, Elli decided to leave her husband. Her first shot at fame was finished, as was her first go-around with love, but she was ready to try again on both counts! Elli returned to college, this time to pursue Music Education. As luck would have it, she again met a boy on her second day. Although she married him, things were different this time. For one, he was a jazz musician. Two years after they’d met, he was presented with an irresistible chance to play a six-week gig. Leaving school, the two were touring on the road! According to Elli, the gig “ruined him for further study.” Unable to return to the classroom, the couple moved to Miami, where he set out to conquer the music world. Relying on Elli’s local relatives for help while they got settled, her husband pounded the pavement in pursuit of his musical dream. Meanwhile Elli finally went after and got her first gig too, a week of singing on a cruise ship. It marked the beginning of her career! Or so it seemed.

 

 

 


“Cutting her first a cappella record in a public recording booth on Broadway for fifty cents when she was just fifteen, Elli seemed bound for an early spotlight.”

 

Elli spent the next several years moving around the U.S., “gigging” whenever possible. She sporadically sang with various touring top-40 cover bands in hotels, restaurants, clubs, and on cruise ships. Wherever and whenever she could. Things were ok. Her jazzy-pop quartet, “Elli Fordyce and Her Favorite Things” went on-the-road and all was looking great until, after a year of touring, the band left for a gig in Illinois and her world fell apart. On a snowy highway en route to the show, Elli’s drummer drove her car containing the entire band and all its equipment into a disabled truck. The aftermath of that devastating accident left Elli reeling. She would not sing again for 15 years. “Not even ‘Happy Birthday,’ not even in the shower,” Elli says. The accident had left many scars, both physical and emotional; healing took time, and she slowly recuperated.

 

Then, Elli’s third shot at this career came knocking and this time she was READY.

 

This chance to live out Elli’s dream came with the help of a tiny Yorkshire Terrier puppy. The ginger-colored cutie melted Elli’s heart. Calling her “Dindi” (pronounced “Gingy”), which means little jewel in Portuguese, that name had special significance because it was also the title of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova, Elli’s favorite. Elli started singing “Dindi” to her sweet puppy and, Dindi responded to “her” song! That was all it took. Elli soon joined a cabaret workshop led by the MAC-award-winning singer/songwriter, Lina Koutrakos. Shortly thereafter, she came under the influence of renowned jazz pianist and educator Barry Harris and thanks to Barry, Elli was back on track. And, she’s still going strong! "It feels great, but I still find emotional baggage that I have to delete from my system as fast as I can. I’ve had lots of support: career coaches, healers, vocal coaches, many alternative-health modalities, and more. I also have great musicians who are on the same page and my engineer/ producer is totally amazing. He and I are a committed team. Whenever I get scared (which kept me from doing as much as I could have so many times over the years) I yell for help and try to get over myself as thoroughly as all my resources can help me to do. It's challenging and exciting and terrifying and exhilarating and, in the long run, I think it will go well.”

 

Her first CD, “Something Still Cool,” was met with rave reviews. Her second, “Songs Spun of Gold,” is nearly finished and is already gathering buzz. Now, when Elli looks back on her youthful dreams she can see how everything fit together in place for this belated—but not too late!—career. “Where I am and where I'm minimally apt to wind up were what I dreamed of when I was young, middle-aged and 60-something, but I never really expected to get there. As time seemed to slip away, I thought it was too-little, too-late. A large part of why I would slow down or stop was having big dreams that seemed so impossible from where I was. It's an amazing surprise that that has turned around and every little brick in the road now means so much to me.”

 

And, as Elli says, “It’s never too late!”

 

Visit Elli’s site and music at: www.ellifordyce.com



Thank you Elli, for sharing your Story with us.


~~~

Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2009 by Tamar Burris Story of My Life®
 



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Member Since
Aug 2007
Archibald Sharron said:
posted on Feb 25, 2009
Miss Elli

What a spectacular story to tell us. You have found your passion and showing the young whippersnappers that it's never ever too late to go find them. I missed an awful lot of opportunities in my life time that I have regrets on now that I look back. I hope better for my children.

Thanks for sharing this. Made my day to read this.
With regards,
Archibald Sharron


Member Since
Feb 2009
Elli Fordyce said:
posted on Feb 25, 2009
Reply to Archibald Sharron

Thank you so much, Archibald. I'll bet you can find something you're passionate about that you can evolve or develope further, even as the young whippersnapper that you are. Feel free to let me know your progress. I'll post here when I'm appearing somewhere "near you."   Best,   Elli


Member Since
Aug 2007
Brian Childers said:
posted on Feb 26, 2009
Elli

no way you're 72.... you hot mama jazz singer you! I don't believe you! :) great story - I am digging the music even though I don't "get" jazz - brian


Member Since
Feb 2009
Elli Fordyce said:
posted on Feb 26, 2009
Reply to Brian Childers

Hey Brian:

Well, a not-so-hot grandmama jazz singer. Glad you liked the story and are digging the music even if you don't "get" jazz. I always love hearing that someone not previously into jazz vocals gets something our of mine. It's never too late and I want my music to transcend limitations that way even while I stick to my own inner voice while doing it.

Elli


Member Since
Aug 2007
Agnes Williams said:
posted on Mar 08, 2009
oh!

A girl after my own New Orleans heart :) Are you coming down this way any time on tour? You are indeed an inspiration! 


Member Since
Feb 2009
Elli Fordyce said:
posted on Mar 09, 2009
Reply to Agnes Williams

Hey Agnes:

I have a new manager who's submitting me. If you have any personal connections for gigs there, pls. let me know (ellifordyce@msn.com).

Thanks so much for writing.


Member Since
Dec 2008
Shayne Packer said:
posted on Apr 07, 2009
Congratulations!

Elli - Congrats on being featured on StoryOfMyLife.com! I enjoyed reading your story. You're 72? You don't look a day older than 71! ;-) I bought your first CD on iTunes, as I mentioned to you on twitter. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" is my favorite. I'm really looking forward to your second CD!


Member Since
Feb 2009
Elli Fordyce said:
posted on Apr 08, 2009
Reply to Shayne Packer's comment

Hi Shayne:

Thanks for reading/commenting. Interesting how these internet interconnections evolve, which is why I love Twitter!!!

I'm tickled to hear your feedback about my first CD. I also really enjoy that arrangement of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" That brainstorm came about while listening to the pianist one Sunday afternoon in a little "joint" in "The Village," a trumpet player sitting in. When they did the tune with that tempo and feel and I had a huge A-ha. Never had heard it that way, tho many years later I heard a sort of similar by Lena Horn, which the trumpet player might have been influenced by. BTW, if you send me your email, I send PDFs of the CD insert, since you downloaded the CD; there are stories about all the choices and many photos -- a mini-SOML!

Continue your great work and congratulations again on your story in SOML. Talk to you on Twitter.

Best,

Elli (@ellifordyce)