Review: ‘Billie’ (2020), an oral history of Billie Holiday’s life

February 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Bobby Tucker and Billie Holiday in “Billie” (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“Billie” (2020)

Directed by James Erskine

Culture Representation: The documentary “Billie” features a group of white and black people, who were associated with Billie Holiday, discussing the life of the legendary jazz singer, who died at the age of 44 in 1959.

Culture Clash: Holiday battled drug addiction, and several people who knew her say that she was a target of the FBI.

Culture Audience: “Billie” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a raw and authentic look at Holiday’s life, as told by people who knew her best.

Billie Holiday in “Billie” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

The insightful documentary “Billie” (directed by James Erskine) is a highly unusual non-fiction film because most of it is based on previously unreleased audio interviews that were conducted in the 1970s. Billie Holiday is the subject of the documentary, and there’s expected archival footage of her in her film. But the interviews are by numerous people who knew her best who wouldn’t be able to be interviewed today, because almost everyone is now deceased.

Holiday, who died of heart failure and cirrhosis of the liver at age 44 in 1959, was an iconic jazz singer who was also one of the first African American entertainers to record music speaking out against racial injustice. She was a highly talented and unique star, but she also complicated and deeply troubled. Her highs, lows and everything in between are detailed in the film, but there’s still a sense of mystery about Holiday that remains to this day. (It’s one of the reasons why biopics about Holiday portray her in very different ways.)

The audio recordings in “Billie” come from the archives of New York City-based journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl, who died by falling from a hotel in Washington, D.C., on February 4, 1978. She was 38. The official cause of death was ruled a suicide, but her younger sister Myra Luftman (who is not interviewed on camera) says in the documentary that Kuehl probably died from foul play because of the research that Keuhl was doing for the book.

Kuehl was an experienced arts journalist who wrote for The Paris Review and The New York Times Sunday magazine. She began working on the Holiday biography in 1971 and interviewed an impressive number of people. (The documentary has lots of images of cassette recorders and reel-to-reel tap machines in operation, to give a visual representation of these interviews.) She was a perfectionist, according to her sister, which is why it took so long for Kuehl to work on the uncompleted book.

According to Luftman, her sister Kuehl was threatened by people close to Count Basie, who became close to Kuehl when she interviewed him for the book. Kuehl was twice-divorced with no children, while Basie was married with children. Although Luftman couldn’t be sure if Basie and her sister had a sexual affair, she thinks those threats might have had something to do with Kuehl’s death.

Kuehl died after attending a Basie concert in Washington, D.C. Luftman says that a big clue for her that it wasn’t a suicide was that Kuehl had a cosmetic face mask on, which was her habit when she got ready for bed. An epilogue at the end of the documentary mentions that because of the destruction of police records, “investigations into Linda’s death made during the film proved inconclusive.”

In the documentary, Luftman explains why her sister wanted to write a Billie Holiday biography: “Even thought they came from totally different backgrounds, I think she really identified with Billie. I think she felt the pain of someone’s struggles. She did not see [Billie Holiday] as the victim, which is the way she had been portrayed.”

Holiday co-wrote her 1956 memoir “Lady Sings the Blues” with William Dufty, and the book became the basis of the 1972 feature film of the same name, starring Diana Ross, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role as Holiday. The “Billie” documentary gives added depth to Holiday’s memoir, since it includes the perspectives of people who talk about things that Holiday didn’t want to talk about in her book. One thing everyone agrees on is that Holiday grew up rough and grew up fast, which undoubtedly shaped the person she became later in life.

Holiday’s birth name was Eleanora Fagan, and she was born to teenage parents in Philadelphia on April 7, 1915. Sarah Julia “Sadie” Fagan (a maid) was 13 when she gave birth to Eleanora, and Clarence Halliday (a musician) was 15. Eleanora’s parents got married when she was 3 years old, and she was raised primarily in Baltimore. Her parents split up not long after getting married, and Halliday became an absentee father who remained out of his daughter’s life.

John Fagan, a cousin of Holiday’s, says in the documentary of their upbringing in East Baltimore: “It was a nice community to live. It was a different kind of poor … We were happy with what we had.” Mary “Pony” Kane, a childhood friend of Holiday’s, remembers that Eleanor was foul-mouthed, even as a child. Eleanor’s favorite curse words were “motherfucker” and “cocksucker.”

By all accounts, Eleanor started working as a housecleaner/maid before she was a teenager. She also began hanging out at a brothel, which is where she first heard jazz music. But the time she was 13, she was a prostitute. Her cousin John says, “During them times, she had to survive. She wasn’t like a slut. She just looked fast.”

However, Holiday’s former pianist Memry Midgett says in the documentary that Holiday’s prostitution past haunted her throughout her life. Midgett says that Holiday would “talk for hours about how she started in prostitution when she was 13 years old. At the time, she had her own girls on the street. She was terribly worried about whether or not God would forgive her.”

Skinny Davenport, a pimp who knew Holiday in her prostitution days, describes how the hookers in the neighborhood were treated: “Knock ’em down, kick ’em in the ass. They loved it.” Several people in the documentary describe Holiday as a “masochist” who never knew what it was like to have a healthy love relationship when she was adult. Considering all the trauma that Holiday had when she was a child (she was also raped more than once when she was a teenager), it’s no surprise that she ended up way that she did.

In 1928, Holiday and her mother moved to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. And by the age of 14, Holiday was singing professionally in nightclubs. In an archival radio interview, Holiday says, “I always knew I could sing, but I didn’t know I could make money out of it, until I was working in a little joint called The Hot Cha.” Pigmeat Markham, an entertainer who knew Holiday in her early days as a performer, remembers that Holiday had “stagefright.”

Detroit Red, a dancer work worked with Holiday at The Hot Cha, remembers: “At that particular time, the only vice she had was smoking [marijuana] reefers.” Later, Holiday became an alcoholic and addicted to cocaine and heroin. Her drug problems led to her multiple arrests at the height of her fame. It’s implied that her addiction issues were inherited, because Sandy Williams, a bandmate of Holiday’s father Clarence, describes Clarence as a “happy-go-lucky guy” who “loved his booze” and was often drunk.

Shortly after she became a professional singer as a teenager, Holiday began working with musician/producer John Hammond, who introduced her to Benny Goodman in 1933. Hammond says of Goodman, “He slept with Billie. I was one of the people who didn’t.” Holiday was the first black singer to work with Goodman in those racially segregated times.

Holiday’s career reached a new level when she began singing for the Count Basie Orchestra. Basie’s saxophonist Lester Young is credited with giving Holiday the nickname Lady Day. Holiday’s mother Sadie (who took an interested in her daughter’s career) was nicknamed Duchess. Along with Count Basie, “we were the Royal Family,” Holiday said in an archival interview. She said of Young, who would become her constant companion: “I returned the compliment and called him the President.”

In a 1972 interview, pianist Jimmy Rowles had this to say about Holiday and Young’s relationship: “They had the funniest way of loving each other. It was brother and sister, but it was another thing … He was one of the strangest people on Earth. He was like a visitor, but she was too.”

Holiday’s time with Basie and his band ended on a sour note when she left. Depending on whom you believe, she either quit or was fired. In the documentary interview, Hammond says, “There was a real problem between Billie and Basie. She wasn’t making enough money. This was one of the principal reasons why she left the band.” Hammond estimates that Holiday’s salary with Basie was $125 a week, at the most.

However, drummer Jo Jones has a entirely different recollection of why Holiday parted ways with Basie. Jones insists: “She didn’t leave the band. She was fired by John Hammond.” Jones says that Hammond fired Holiday because she refused Hammond’s demands to sing blues music.

Kuehl is heard in the interview going back and forth with Jones and Hammond to get their reactions to these conflicting allegations. Jones gets very angry in the interview when he hears that Hammond has denied firing Holiday, while Hammond expresses bewilderment in reacting to Jones’ claims that Hammond fired Holiday.

Meanwhile, Basie doesn’t offer much insight about Holiday in his interview commentary, because he claims he didn’t really know what was going on when she was in his band. (It’s hard to believe he didn’t know.) When asked if the stories were true that Holiday had to darken her skin when performing with Basie and his band, because she was so much lighter-skinned then they were, Basie also claims ignorance about that issue.

Whatever the real reasons for Holiday’s exit from the Count Basie Orchestra, her next career opportunity was one that was groundbreaking but controversial at the time. She was the singer for Artie Shaw and His Orchestra, who were all white. Shaw, bassist Sid Weiss, guitarist Al Arola, guitarist Les Robinson and friend Mae Weiss all mention in their documentary interviews that many racist people back then refused to accept a black female singer performing with a group of white musicians.

On tour, especially in the U.S. South, they encountered a lot of vicious racism. She also got a lot of abuse and harassment from racists they encountered. Holiday was accustomed to being the only woman in a band, but with Artie Shaw and His Orchestra, she felt the pain of racial segregation, since she couldn’t she wasn’t allowed in “whites only” public places with the rest of the band, such as restaurants and hotels. The problems became too much for her, and she quit working with Artie Shaw and His Orchestra.

Being a solo act gave Holiday the freedom to record what’s considered the most important and most controversial song of her career: “Strange Fruit.” Written by Abel Meeropol under the alias Lewis Allan, and released in 1939, the song is a poetically brutal commentary on racial injustice, particularly in describing the lynching of black people in the South. “Strange Fruit” was banned from radio airplay in certain areas, and many venues forbid Holiday from performing the song.

Music producer Marty Gabler says in the documentary that Columbia Records didn’t want to release “Strange Fruit” because of “the social content and because of how unusual it was to do a protest song.” “Strange Fruit” is considered historically important because it was one of the first social justice songs released by a mainstream performer prior to the U.S. civil rights movement. Protest songs became more prevalent in the 1960s, but Holiday was a pioneer.

Cafe Society owner Barney Josephson says that it wasn’t unusual for white customers to walk out of the club and complain if Holiday performed the song. Josephson sums up the usual complaint that he got was: “We came to your nightclub to be entertained. We don’t call this entertainment.” Jazz musician Charles Mingus says “Strange Fruit” was very impactful because it shows that Holiday was “fighting for equality before Martin Luther King. The song she chose exposed discrimination, [by] putting it on stage.”

Jazz/swing singer Billy Eckstine says that one of the biggest racial inequality problems that black artists had to deal with was that their music was being controlled and judged by white people. “Get a load of the critics, the people who judge our music. There never was a black critic in swing music. Because of the power structure, [black people] never had a chance.”

As Holiday’s fame grew, so too did her notoriety for being a drug addict. Several people in the documentary say that New York City doormen (especially on 52nd Street) would regularly supply her with drugs. Joe Guy, a trumpet player in her band, was also one of her main drug connections. Holiday’s boxer dog was used as a way to transport drugs underneath the dog’s collar. Although she was a heavy user of marijuana, alcohol and cocaine, Holiday was most associated with her use of heroin and other opiates.

Several people in the documentary literally say in one way or another, “She loved to get high.” And they talk about how she had an unusually high physical tolerance for drugs that was stronger than men who were physically a lot bigger than she was. Sylvia Syms, a singer and longtime friend of Holiday’s, comments on Holiday’s drug addiction: “She really dug being high, but I never saw anyone with such a capacity.”

It’s mentioned several times in the documentary that Holiday’s well-known drug problem and the controversy over “Strange Fruit” led to a conspiracy to bring her down, with the FBI involved. Jimmy Fletcher, an African American who was a narcotics agent for the FBI at the time, says that Holiday’s agent Joe Glaser worked with the FBI to arrest her in a drug bust “for her own good.”

According to Fletcher, “He [Glaser] confided in me that he wanted to save her. And the only way to save her was to have her knocked out by the government.” George H. White, who was a narcotics agent at the time, says Holiday’s lavish lifestyle also made her a target for the FBI and other law enforcement: “Billie flaunted her way of living.”

A 1947 shootout with cops in Philadelphia led to Holiday’s first arrest for narcotics possession. She was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. The documentary includes archival news video footage of Joan Allen, a correctional officer who worked at the federal rehabilitation facility in Alderston, West Virginia, where Holiday served her prison time.

Allen shows the cell where Holiday stayed and describes Holiday as “quiet and certainly no trouble ever. She was a generous person, I’d say, in thought anyway. She never bothered anybody.” And to the best of anyone’s knowledge, Holiday didn’t sing while she was incarcerated.

Even though she performed a historic sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall after she was let out of prison in 1948 (at the time, Carnegie Hall was a venue for classical and opera music, not jazz), the damage to her reputation was done. She lost her cabaret license to perform in New York City nightclubs, thereby limiting her income options. Her second drug bust came in San Francisco in 1949, but she didn’t get any prison time for that arrest.

Dr. James Hamilton, a psychiatrist who interviewed Holiday when she was in prison, had this diagnosis of her. “She’s a psychopath.” While interviewer Kuehl can be heard gasping in shock when she hears this description, Hamilton elaborates that Holiday was “impulse-driven, strong, talented but not a dependable individual.” He noted that he thinks that Holiday’s inability to control her impulses made her psychopathic.

As for Holiday’s love life, several people in the documentary say that Holiday was openly bisexual. In a 1971 interview, Ruby Davis, who was Holiday’s roommate before the singer was famous, says that Holiday’s nickname was Mr. Billie Holiday “because she was seldom seen with fellas … Her mother put it in her mind to be careful [of men] because they’ll always break your heart, just like Billie’s father.”

Harry “Sweets” Edison, a trumpeter in the Count Basie Orchestra comments on Holiday: “She was like a man, but feminine.” John Simmons, who was her bass player and lover, calls her a “sex machine.” Music conductor Ray Ellis also comments on Holiday’s sex appeal: “I was in love with Billie, not necessarily Billie, but somebody. That voice. It turned me on.”

Although Holiday had several male and female lovers, only one woman is mentioned in the documentary as being one of her paramours: actress Tallulah Bankhead. Some people in the documentary allude to Holiday being fond of sex orgies. And it seems that Holiday didn’t want to settle down with anyone who was considered “nice” or “normal.”

Irene Kitchen, one of Holiday’s friends, mentions musician Sonny White, who was briefly Holiday’s fiancé, as “nice, quiet, a very good musician … Her mother and I hoped that she would marry him. Jimmy “Flashy” Monroe [a pimp who became a trombonist in Holiday’s band] broke them up. The next thing I know, she was using coke.”

Monroe would become Holiday’s first husband, whom she married in 1941. By all accounts, he was abusive and a heavy drug user. By the time that Holiday was arrested in 1947, she listed her marital status as “separated.” She and Monroe got divorced the same year.

Her romances didn’t get any better. John Levy became her manager and lover, even though he was married at the time. He reportedly ripped her off. Maria Bryant, a singer and friend of Holiday’s, calls Levy a “dirty, rotten, stinking bastard.”

In 1945, Holiday moved on to Louis McKay, who would become her manager and then her second husband. They got married in 1957. The documentary includes stories of people witnessing McKay (who’s been described as a mafia enforcer) being physically abusive to Holiday. Earl Zaiding, who was Holiday’s lawyer, calls McKay a “pathological liar.”

There were reports that McKay was very controlling and unscrupulous when it came to Holiday’s finances. At the time of her death, she and McKay were separated and not divorced. She had $750 to her name when she died, according to the documentary. Because McKay was still legally married to Holiday when she died, he inherited Holiday’s estate and future earnings.

Milt Hilton, a bass player who worked with Holiday during her last music recording sessions, remembers: “She was in pretty bad shape.” He took many of the widely published photos of her during these last sessions. A frail-looking Holiday is shown holding a glass of alcohol. Other people interviewed in the documentary include trombonist Melba Liston and singer Carmen McCrae.

The documentary doesn’t uncover any new visual footage of Billie Holiday. The songs that she sings in performance clips include “Strange Fruit, “Blues Are Brewin'” (with Louis Armstrong), “Fine and Mellow,” “My Man (Mon Homme),” “I Loves You Porgy,” “God Bless the Child” and “Don’t Explain,” the song that Holiday said represented her the best. There’s also a clip of her role as Endie in the 1947 film “New Orleans.”

Because “Billie” is told in chronological order of her life, the documentary has a very easy narrative to follow. Tony Bennett, who says he briefly knew Holiday, sums up the way a lot of people feel about Holiday: “She told her own story, just by being herself. She had a wild life.” He adds, “I want to know why all girl singers crack up. When they reach the top, something tragic happens.”

Greenwich Entertainment released “Billie” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 4, 2020.

Review: ‘Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things,’ starring Ray Brown Jr., Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, Margo Jefferson, Judith Tick, Kenny Barron and Jim Blackman

June 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ella Fitzgerald in “Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things” (Photo courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment)

“Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things” 

Directed by Leslie Woodhead

Culture Representation: The documentary “Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things” features a racially diverse (mostly African American and white) group of people (mostly music artists and writers) discussing the life and legacy of singer Ella Fitzgerald.

Culture Clash: Fitzgerald experienced damaging racism, and her love of touring took a toll on her personal life.

Culture Audience: “Ella Fitzgerald: One of Those Things” will appeal mostly to people who are fans of jazz and biographies of legendary singers.

Ella Fitzgerald in “Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things” (Photo courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment)

Ella Fitzgerald left a unique legacy in music that can be compared to very few artists. She mastered the genres of swing, bebop, American standards and, of course, jazz. The well-made documentary “Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things” (directed by Leslie Woodhead and narrated by Sharon D. Clarke) is perhaps the definitive biography film of Fitzgerald, who died in 1996 at the age of 79. Although the film does not reveal anything new about her, it does have some great archival material and a well-rounded group of people who are interviewed.

Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia, but she was raised primarily in New York state. Her family moved to Yonkers, New York, in 1919, when she was 2 years old. Although she grew up in poverty, she discovered a love of the arts at an early age, and she helped earn money for her family as a dancer and as a singer.

Her teenage years were very turbulent. When Fitzgerald was 13, her beloved mother Tempie died. Ella Fitzgerald biographer Judith Tick says in the documentary the death of Ella’s Fitzgerald’s mother was “a devastating blow, because her mother had been the continuity in her life, and Ella was lost.”

Fitzgerald was sent to reform school in 1933, where she was beaten and experienced other forms of abuse, which people in the documentary say was doled out the harshest to the black kids in the reform school, compared children of other races. Her experiences at the reform school were so traumatic for her, that Fitzgerald never spoke publicly about what happened. However, the documentary shows records from the school with hand-written notes by school authorities that describe Fitzgerald as “ungovernable”—an indication that, despite any abuse she suffered there, her spirit could not be broken.

Yonkers is in close-enough in proximity to New York City that Fitzgerald was able to go to the big city and experience the culture of New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, which was the epicenter for African American music in the Northeast. In November 1934, Fitzgerald made her Apollo Theater singing debut on Amateur Night. And, as the famous story goes, she was was initially booed by the audience, but then she won them over with her voice.

The documentary includes an interview with dancer Norma Miller, who was in the audience for Fitzgerald’s fateful Apollo Theater debut, which was the first time that a very nervous Fitzgerald had ever sung in public. “We booed her,” remembers Miller. “They were introducing somebody we didn’t know. We were a bunch of rowdy teenagers in the balcony … Can you imagine? We booed Ella Fitzgerald!”

Fitzgerald’s son Ray Brown Jr. adds, “It was one of those defining moments, like ‘I’m here. I have to do something. Something has to be accomplished.’ And to be able to pull something out of yourself that’s so magical, that’s pretty amazing.”

Miller remembers the turning point when the audience’s reaction went from jeers to cheers: “We heard a sound [her voice]. It was so perfect. She shut us up so quick, you could hear a rat piss on cotton!”

From that Apollo stage debut, Fitzgerald then began hanging out in New York City even more. She would meet two of the people who would have a major impact on her  early music career: Louis Armstrong (who was a big inspiration for her) and drummer/band leader Chick Webb, a dwarf-sized hunchback who didn’t let his unusual physical appearance deter him from being a larger-than-life force in the music business.

Webb had an all-male band and was very reluctant at first to let Fitzgerald in the group. He had two concerns over including her in the band: Her safety and her sex appeal. On the one hand, Webb wasn’t sure if Fitzgerald would be the target of sexual misconduct  as the only woman in a group of randy men. On the other hand, Webb thought that Fitzgerald wasn’t attractive enough to appeal to the band’s audience. It’s mentioned in the documentary that Webb cruelly called her “ugly,” and he and other people would sometimes taunt her over her weight.

In the end, talent won out, and Fitzgerald became part of Webb’s band. It was the big break that led to her first mainstream hit “Mr. Paganini.” She experienced even bigger success with the classic “A Tisket A Tasket,” one of her signature songs.

Smokey Robinson says that “A Tisket A Tasket” was the first Ella Fitzgerald song her remembers hearing: “My sisters used to play that all day long, every day.” The massive crossover success of the song led to Fitzgerald making her film debut in the 1942 movie “Ride ‘Em Cowboy.” In the film,  she sang “A Tisket A Tasket” on a bus where all the people on the bus except for Fitzgerald were white. The irony is that in real life in that era, she would’ve been relegated to the back of the bus in many places in the U.S., where racial segregation was legal at the time.

This segregation affected Fitzgerald’s life in many different ways. In terms of her career, she (like other black entertainers) could not perform in certain venues that refused to have black performers. She also wasn’t allowed on certain TV programs and radio shows. And even the music she performed early in her career (swing and bebop) was considered “race” music at the time.

Her physical appearance was also harshly judged in other ways. Female entertainers were expected to be thin, glamorous and sexy (not much has changed since those days), and “Ella did not fulfill those expectations,” says writer Margo Jefferson. Her success is testament to how Fitzgerald was a groundbreaking nonconformist in her field, Jefferson adds.

Fitzgerald was also a trailblazer when, after Webb died at the age 30, she took over his band and became the leader, and the band was renamed Ella and Her Famous Orchestra. The documentary mentions that some of the band members resented having a woman as their leader, so there was some inevitable friction. After the group disbanded during World War II, Fitzgerald’s popularity waned.

But she was a master reinvention, so Fitzgerald transitioned from swing to bebop music. It was by performing bebop that she was able to showcase her brilliant ability to have her singing voice do solos on the same level as musical instrument solos. Jazz pianist Kenny Barron comments, “She had a great ear [for music].”

She started hanging out with Dizzy Gillespie and eventually toured with Gillespie and his band. It was while touring with Gillespie that Fitzgerald fell in love with Gillespie’s bass player Ray Brown. Fitzgerald and Brown married in 1947, and adopted the son of Fitzgerald’s half-sister and named him Ray Brown Jr.  (The documentary does not mention Fitzgerald’s first husband, Benny Kornegay. Their 1941 to 1943 marriage ended in an annulment.)

Fitzgerald’s marriage to Brown ended in divorce in 1953, but the former couple still worked together for many years afterward. It’s mentioned several times in the documentary that Fitzgerald was a workaholic who loved to perform and travel. That heavy touring schedule, which she kept up for several decades, took a toll on her personal life. By her own admission, she could never be the type of wife and mother than many people expected her to be, so it was difficult to find a love partner who could understand how devoted was to music.

Another transitional period in Fitzgerald’s life and career was when Norman Ganz became her manager in the mid-1940s. He wanted Fitzgerald to cross over to an even broader audience, so it was his idea to have Fitzgerald perform standards from the Great American Songbook. Ganz also launched Verve Records, as a showcase for Fitzgerald. It allowed her to appeal to a more affluent and sophisticated audience, which opened the doors for her to perform at venues that were traditionally off-limits to black performers.

And sometimes those doors could only be opened because the venues were shamed into doing so. The Mocambo nightclub refused to book Fitzgerald, until Marilyn Monroe, who as a big fan of Fitzgerald, famously said that she and other celebrities would boycott the club unless Fitzgerald was allowed to perform there.

Granz was also a tireless advocate in pushing for desegregation not only for Fitzgerald but also for other people of color. Granz’s biographer Tad Hershon comments on Granz: “He saw the evils of segregation, and was determined to campaign against segregation in jazz music.” When Fitzgerald moved to Beverly Hills in California, she couldn’t buy a home there, due to racial discrimination, so Granz had to buy the home and put it in his name.

Although Granz was undoubtedly a loyal champion for Fitzgerald, he’s also described in the documentary as “nasty” and “controlling.” Not only did he want a tight grip on Fitzgerald by dictating what she could and could not do, he also alienated other artists (such as Gillespie and Sinatra) because of his bossy ways. When Sinatra refused to take Granz’s orders, Granz spitefully told Fitzgerald that she couldn’t work with Sinatra anymore.

Granz stood by Fitzgerald when she and members of her entourage were arrested in Houston in 1955, just because some members of the entourage were shooting dice in her dressing room. The documentary includes a snippet of an audio interview from Fitzgerald where she said that even though the arrest was an obviously racist set-up and a humiliating experience, the irony is that people at the police department still asked for her autograph. Granz later sued the Houston police department for reimbursement of the bail money.

One of the rare gems in the documentary is a never-broadcast clip from a radio interview that Fitzgerald did in the 1960s, when civil-rights protests were very much at the forefront of African American struggles for equality. In the interview, Fitzgerald talked about how it bothered her that when she traveled outside the U.S., particularly in Europe, people couldn’t understand why the U.S. was so segregated and that even someone as famous as Fitzgerald would be treated like a second-class citizen in certain parts of the U.S.

In the interview, Fitzgerald also said that die-hard racists probably won’t change their minds, but younger generations might have different beliefs about race. And  Fitzgerald mentioned that she had to speak out about these issues, because she felt it was the right thing to do, even though some people think that entertainers shouldn’t talk about politics.

At the end of the interview, Fitzgerald asks where the interview will be heard. When the interviewer tells her it will be heard across many states, she replies that she might get in trouble for what she said, but she needed to say it. Perhaps her comments were considered too “radical” at the time, and maybe that’s why the interview never aired.

Tony Bennett comments in the documentary about Fitzgerald: “She never made a political statement, except when I heard her say three words. And it was the most complete definition of the complete ignorance of the world and the way they treat African Americans. She said, ‘Tony, we’re all here.’ In three words, she said the whole thing.”

In addition to her problems with racism, Fitzgerald was experiencing issues as a mother who was frequently away from home. Her relationship with her son Ray suffered, especially during his rebellious teen years, when he was shipped off to Catholic military school. When Ray moved out of the family home in the 1970s, he was estranged from his mother for about 10 years afterward. Fortunately, they reconciled, and he speaks of his mother in very loving ways in the documentary.

Other people interviewed in the film (who all predictably praise Fitzgerald) include music artists Patti Austin, Johnny Mathis, Jamie Cullum, Laura Mvula, Cleo Laine, Andre Previn (who died in 2019), Itzhak Perlman and drummer Gregg Field. Also weighing in with their thoughts are jazz writer Will Friedland, Newport Jazz festival founder George Wein and Jim Blackman, a longtime Fitzgerald fan who was her last tour manager.

During the course of her influential career, Fitzgerald won almost every possible prestigious award for music. She earned the nicknames First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz and Lady Ella. But this documentary also beautifully shows that her greatest accomplishment is how she paved the way for so many other artists and created a legacy that will continue to influence countless generations.

Eagle Rock Entertainment released “Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on June 26, 2020.

2018 Christmas in Rockefeller Center: performers announced

November 15, 2018

Christmas in Rockefeller Center

The following is a press release from NBC:

The most wonderful time of the year kicks off with the annual lighting of New York City’s famous tree on NBC’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center(R)” on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 8-10 p.m. ET/PT. The evening will include festive performances by Diana Ross, Tony Bennett,  Brett Eldredge, Darci Lynne Farmer, Diana Krall, John Legend, Martina McBride, Pentatonix and Kellie Pickler, with a special appearance by Howie Mandel. Additional acts to be announced. NBC’s “Today” anchors Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Craig Melvin will co-host the highly anticipated holiday special.

Prior to the primetime telecast, an additional live hour of the special will be broadcast on select NBC stations (7-8 p.m. ET) and be co-hosted by “Extra’s” Mario Lopez and WNBC’s Stefan Holt and Natalie Pasquarella. Check local listings.

The tradition of the Rockefeller Christmas tree dates back to the Great Depression. First erected in 1931, the inaugural tree was decked with 700 lights and placed in front of the then eight-month-old RCA Building (the current Comcast Building). The Christmas tree gathering was enhanced in 1936 with the opening of the Rockefeller Plaza outdoor ice-skating pond. NBC-TV televised the tree lighting for the first time in 1951 on “The Kate Smith Show” and as part of the nationwide “Howdy Doody” television show from 1953-55

The 86th annual holiday special will celebrate the lighting of a 72-foot tall, 45-foot wide Norway Spruce from Wallkill, N.Y. The tree weighs approximately 12 tons and is approximately 75 years old.

It will be adorned with more than 50,000 multi-colored LEDs on approximately five miles of wire and topped with a new Swarovski star designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. The new three-dimensional star is 9 feet 4 inches in diameter, weighs approximately 900 pounds and features 70 spikes covered in 3 million Swarovski crystals.

NBCUniversal is celebrating the 10th anniversary of our partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, kicking off with “Christmas in Rockefeller Center(R).” As part of the company’s Green is Universal initiative, the campaign will support tree-planting efforts to promote recovery in disaster-stricken areas. NBCUniversal’s $50,000 donation will restore tree canopies across the United States that have been destroyed by recent wildfires and hurricanes. The more than 100,000 trees planted since the partnership’s inception have helped to rebuild forests and communities, as well as provide beautification, cleaner air and water, and restoration of natural habitat.

ABOUT THE HOSTS:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE

Savannah Guthrie is the co-anchor of NBC News’ TODAY and she also serves as NBC News’ chief legal correspondent. Since joining TODAY, she has conducted a wide range of exclusive interviews with newsmakers, including President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. Guthrie was a primary anchor for both the network’s primetime 2018 midterm election coverage and the 2016 presidential election coverage. Guthrie has anchored major breaking news events, including the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Las Vegas mass shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris and the 2013 Moore, Okla., tornado. As part of her work on TODAY, she received a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Morning Show in 2012. Guthrie is also a New York Times bestselling author for her books “Princesses Wear Pants” and the sequel “Princesses Save the World.”

HODA KOTB

Hoda Kotb is the co-anchor of NBC News’ TODAY as well as the co-host of TODAY with Kathie Lee and Hoda. Kotb has also been a “Dateline” correspondent since 1998 and covered a variety of domestic and international stories, as well as human-interest pieces and features across all NBC News platforms. Kotb has received numerous awards, including the 2008 Gracie Award for Individual Achievement, the 2008 Alfred I. duPont -Columbia University Award, a Peabody in 2006 and as part of her work on TODAY, a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Morning Show in 2012. She is a New York Times bestselling author for her books “Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer and Kathie Lee,” “Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives” and “I’ve Loved You Since Forever.”

AL ROKER

With a career spanning 35 years, 13-time Emmy-award winner Al Roker is the weather, feature and co-anchor on NBC’s TODAY. Throughout the years, Roker has reported live for TODAY from some of history’s worst storms and natural disasters including Haiti in 2010 and from the Lower Ninth Ward and the French Quarter in New Orleans for a special edition on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He is a recipient of the American Meteorological Society’s prestigious Seal of Approval and has been a pioneer in the use of computer graphics for weathercasting and as part of his work on TODAY, he received a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Morning Show in 2010. Since 1985, he has served each holiday season as co-host for the annual Christmas at Rockefeller Center and also co-hosts The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Rose Bowl Parade. As CEO of Al Roker Entertainment, he produces programming for traditional TV networks as well as OTT and digital platforms. Roker is also bestselling author with 11 acclaimed books to his credit.

CRAIG MELVIN

Craig Melvin is a news anchor on NBC News’ TODAY and an anchor on MSNBC. His breaking news coverage and reporting appears across all NBC News and MSNBC platforms. Melvin has covered a wide-range of news events, including several Republican and Democratic National Conventions. He has also covered tragic mass shootings across the country for the network, including Dallas and Orlando in 2016; Charleston, South Carolina in 2015; the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. in 2013; and Sandy Hook in 2012. In addition, Melvin reported extensively on police involved shootings and subsequent protests in Baltimore, Maryland in 2015 and Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Melvin also contributed to NBC Sports coverage of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil.

ABOUT THE PERFORMERS:

DIANA ROSS

Diana Ross is an American singer, actress and record producer. Born and raised in Detroit, Mich., Ross rose to fame as the lead singer of the vocal group the Supremes, which became Motown’s most successful act in the 1960s and one of the world’s best-selling girl groups of all time. Following her departure from the Supremes in 1970, Ross released her debut solo album, which contained the Top 20 Pop hit “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and the No. 1 Pop hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” She later released the album “Touch Me in the Morning” in 1973; its title track reached No. 1, as her second solo No. 1 hit. That same year, her album “Lady Sings the Blues,” which was the original soundtrack of her film based on the life of jazz singer Billie Holiday, went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, selling more than 300,000 copies within its first 8 days of release. By 1976, the “Mahogany” soundtrack included her third No. 1 hit, “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To).” Her 1976 album included her fourth No. 1 hit, “Love Hangover”. In 1979, Ross released the album “The Boss.” Her 1980 semi-eponymous album “Diana” reached No. 2 on the US Billboard albums chart and spawned the No. 1 hit “Upside Down,” and the Top 5 international hit “I’m Coming Out.” Ross’ final single with Motown Records during her initial run with the company achieved her sixth and final US No. 1 Pop hit, the duet “Endless Love.” She is the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. Ross has also ventured into acting, with a Golden Globe Award and Academy Award-nominated performance for her performance in the film “Lady Sings the Blues.” She also starred in two other feature films, “Mahogany” and “The Wiz,” later acting in the television films “Out of Darkness,” for which she also was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, and “Double Platinum.” Ross was named the “Female Entertainer of the Century” by Billboard magazine. In 1993, the Guinness Book of World Records declared Ross the most successful female music artist in history. She will be performing songs off her new holiday collection, “Wonderful Christmas Time.”

TONY BENNETT

No one in popular American music has recorded for so long and at such a high level of excellence than Tony Bennett. In the last 10 years alone he has sold 10 million records. The essence of his longevity and high artistic achievement was imbued in him in his loving childhood home in the Astoria section of Queens where he was born on Aug. 3, 1926. As a teenager Bennett sang while waiting on tables and then enlisted in the Army during World War II and while in Europe he performed with military bands. Bennett’s big break came in 1949 when comedian Bob Hope noticed him working with Pearl Bailey in Greenwich Village in New York City. Bennett is one of a handful of artists to have new albums charting in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and now in the first two decades of the 21st century. He has introduced a multitude of songs into the Great American Songbook that have since become standards for popular music. With millions of records sold worldwide and platinum and gold albums to his credit, Bennett has received 19 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Bennett is also an Emmy Award winner, a Kennedy Center honoree NEA Jazz Master and the first interpretive singer to receive the Gershwin Prize from the Library of Congress. An accomplished painter, three of his works are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute and he has authored six books.

DIANA KRALL

Diana Krall is the only jazz singer to have nine albums debut at the top of the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. To date, her albums have garnered five Grammy Awards, 10 Juno Awards and have also earned nine gold, three platinum and seven multi-platinum albums. Krall’s unique artistry transcends any single musical style and has made her one of the most recognizable artists of our time. Born in Nanaimo, British Columbia, which is outside of Vancouver, Krall grew up in the western part of Canada and began studying the piano when she was 4 years old. Krall was still a teenager when she was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 1994, she signed with GRP Records and recorded “Only Trust Your Heart,” which marked the beginning of her association with Tommy LiPuma, a collaboration that would continue until LiPuma’s untimely passing in 2017. Krall’s success continued with her subsequent releases “All for You” and “Love Scenes,” but her watershed moment came in 1999 with the release of “When I Look in Your Eyes,” her first release for the historic Verve record label. The recording spent an unprecedented 52 weeks in the #1 position on Billboard’s Jazz chart, won two Grammy Awards and went platinum in the U.S. and Canada. Krall’s next album, “The Look of Love,” continued her international success and became a top 10 seller on Billboard’s Top 200 Album charts. Since then she has released a string of recordings that have created an impressive body of work, including recordings featured in several film soundtracks. Krall has expanded upon her role as a performer to include songwriting, producing and arranging and has brought her talents to collaborate with many other artists, including Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett. She tours extensively around the globe to sold out audiences, appearing at premiere jazz festivals and concert halls throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

BRETT ELDREDGE

Platinum-selling singer/songwriter Brett Eldredge has established himself as one of country music’s smoothest-singing vocal powerhouses, biggest radio heavy hitters and most entertaining, arena-packing showmen. He recently released his latest single, “Love Someone,” from his self-titled record, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and the all-genre Top Albums Sales chart. The record has yielded gold-certified hits “Somethin’ I’m Good At” and most recently, “The Long Way.” The latter tune lends its name to his critically acclaimed and first ever sold-out headlining tour. Eldredge’s live shows feature his six chart-topping, gold and platinum-certified singles spanning three albums. The Paris, Ill., native released his Christmas record “Glow” in 2016 and earned an additional #1 song on the Holiday Music and Adult Contemporary charts with “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” a duet alongside Grammy-winner Meghan Trainor. The deluxe edition, featuring five brand new evergreen tracks, was released in October 2018.

DARCI LYNNE FARMER

Winning NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” at just 12 years old by the most votes for a final performance in the history of the show, singer/ventriloquist Darci Lynne Farmer impresses audiences across the country with her sweetheart disposition and undeniable, show-stopping talent beyond her years. Accompanied by her musical friends including divaesque rabbit Petunia, shy and soulful mouse Oscar and sarcastic old woman Edna. Singing through her friends helped the young entertainer find a voice inside she didn’t know she had and helped her overcome a lifelong struggle with shyness. An Oklahoma native, Farmer began participating in talent-based pageants at a young age and picked up ventriloquism shortly after. Two weeks later, Farmer began tackling talent shows, eventually making it to the biggest talent show on television, NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Following her big win, she has been featured on NBC’s “Little Big Shots,” Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship,” “Ellen” and “Today.” “Darci Lynne: My Hometown Christmas Special” will air on NBC this December. Farmer and her friends are continually on the road bringing smiles to audiences across the country. In 2019 Farmer will hit the road for her “Fresh Out of the Box Tour.” For dates and the latest information, visit www.darcilynne.com.

JOHN LEGEND

A highly accomplished musician, songwriter, actor, film producer and philanthropist, Legend is one of the most versatile and talented artists in entertainment today. He recently completed the prestigious and highly exclusive EGOT – Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony – when he won as producer of NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.” In 2015, Legend, along with Common, won the Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy for their song “Glory” from the film “Selma,” which chronicled the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Ala. The 10-time Grammy winner has released five studio albums and began his impressive Grammy run in 2006 when he won Best New Artist for his debut release, “Get Lifted,” which captured Best R&B Album. “Get Lifted,” along with each of his next three albums – “Once Again,” “Evolver” and “Love in the Future” – reached the Top 5 in album sales on the Billboard charts and achieved gold status. As a film producer, Legend worked on the 2016 film sensation “La La Land,” in which he also appeared. In addition, Legend has acted in several TV and film productions, including “Underground,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Soul Men.” On Broadway, Legend won a Tony last year as a producer of August Wilson’s “Jitney,” which won for Best Revival of a Play.

MARTINA MCBRIDE

Martina McBride is a multiple Grammy-nominated country singer, whose incomparable vocals have kept her at the top of the charts garnering six No. 1 hits and 20 top 10 singles. Selling more than 18 million albums to date, McBride has earned 14 Gold, nine Platinum, three Double Platinum and two Triple Platinum certifications. McBride has been honored with more than 15 major music awards, including four wins from the Country Music Association and three Academy of Country Music Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year. On October 30, McBride released her new cookbook, “Martina’s Kitchen Mix: My Recipe Playlist for Real Life.” Her first book, “Around the Table,” a collection of her favorite recipes, hosting tips, practical menu planning advice and themed décor inspiration, came out in 2014. She also released a new Christmas album in October called “It’s the Holiday Season” featuring her favorite Christmas standards, all with the backing of a symphony. When McBride isn’t in the studio, she focuses her time on charitable causes dear to her heart. Through her Team Music Is Love charity initiative, McBride partners with non-profit causes to help many of the towns she’s performing in. McBride also invites fans to join her team in making the world a better place through the power of music. Since 2011, Team Music Is Love has been responsible for many successful fundraising and volunteer projects helping causes such as hunger relief, cancer research, combating domestic violence and helping children in need. McBride was also recently awarded the Covenant House Beacon of Hope Award and Music Business Association’s prestigious 2015 Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award for her philanthropic efforts on behalf of domestic violence.

PENTATONIX

Three-time Grammy Award-winning and multi-platinum-selling artist Pentatonix has sold nearly 10 million albums in worldwide consumption and performed for hundreds of thousands of fans at their sold out shows across the globe. Their YouTube channel boasts more than 15.5 million subscribers, yielding over 3.4 billion video views. Their 2015 self-titled album is certified gold after debuting #1 on Billboard’s 200. Additionally, nine of their albums reached the top 10 on Billboard’s 200 chart (two albums reaching No. 1) and received multiple RIAA certifications for multi-platinum, platinum and gold selling albums and singles. Their tracks, “Mary, Did You Know?” and “Hallelujah” were certified platinum, while the Pentatonix original, “Can’t Sleep Love,” was certified gold. The group has had two holiday specials on NBC, released their tour documentary “On My Way Home” in 2015 and appeared in the feature film, “Pitch Perfect 2.” In October 2017, Pentatonix released a deluxe version of their certified platinum 2016 holiday album, “A Pentatonix Deluxe,” and completed their sold-out “A Pentatonix Christmas Tour” in December. The following year, in April 2018, Pentatonix released the first collection in the group’s PTX Presents series, “PTX Presents: Top Pop Vol. 1,” which features 11 PTX-curated modern pop performances, and just wrapped their 39-city North American tour in September. Their fourth holiday album, “Christmas Is Here!” is out now and is accompanied by a new single, “Making Christmas.” They have also announced their “Christmas Is Here! Tour” that starts in November and finishes with four nights at the Beacon Theatre in New York City.

KELLIE PICKLER

Kellie Pickler was born and raised in North Carolina and now calls Nashville home. She first won hearts and gained national attention as a top finalist on “American Idol” at the age of 19. Pickler has released four albums – gold-certified “Small Town Girl,” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums Chart and was the bestselling debut by a solo country female that year; “Kellie Pickler,” which also debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums Chart and featured her first top 10 hit and the platinum-certified single, “Best Days of Your Life”; “100 Proof,” named the #1 Country Album of the Year by Rolling Stone; and “The Woman I Am.” Her CMT docu-comedy series, “I Love Kellie Pickler,” debuted in 2015, propelling the network to its highest premiere since 2012. After three successful seasons, the series was retired so that Pickler could focus on “Pickler & Ben.” This holiday season Pickler stars in a Hallmark Channel Original Movie “Christmas at Graceland” where she plays a finance executive who rediscovers her passion and talent for singing. The film aired Nov. 17 and Pickler will perform beloved Christmas songs, including “Silent Night,” “Silver Bells,” “First Noel,” “I’ll Be Home for Christ-mas,” “Joy to the World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Pickler is a “Dancing With the Stars” champion and an avid supporter of our servicemen and women. She has completed 11 USO Tours, performing for those serving abroad.

HOWIE MANDEL

Howie Mandel has remained a constant force in show business for more than 30 years. Mandel will return as host of the game show “Deal or No Deal” when it premieres Dec. 5 on CNBC. For nine seasons he has served as a judge on NBC’s hit summer talent competition series, “America’s Got Talent,” which recently wrapped its milestone 13th season. He will also be seen as a judge on the global winter edition of the series, “America’s Got Talent: The Champions,” which will premiere Jan. 7. His additional work as a host, actor, and/or executive producer include “Take It All” and “Howie Do It” for NBC, “Deal With It” for TBS and “Mobbed” for Fox. Previously, Mandel received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for “Deal or No Deal” and a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Game Show Host for the syndicated version of the show. Mandel’s versatile career has encompassed virtually all aspects of the entertainment spectrum, including television, film and stage. From his work on the Emmy Award-winning “St. Elsewhere,” to the international animated children’s series “Bobby’s World,” Mandel has become a mainstay of the American comedy scene. In 2009, Mandel added author to his resume when he released his frank, funny and no-holds-barred memoir, “Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me.” The memoir revealed his ongoing struggle with OCD and ADHD, and how it has shaped his life and career. It made The New York Times bestseller list on its first week and remained on the list for several consecutive weeks. Mandel has done countless comedy specials both on cable and network television. He has also hosted his own syndicated talk show, “The Howie Mandel Show,” and continues to be a mainstay on the talk show circuit. He also continues to perform as many as 200 standup comedy shows each year throughout the U.S. and Canada.

ABOUT THE REGIONAL SHOW (7-8 P.M. ET) HOSTS:

MARIO LOPEZ

Mario Lopez is the consummate entertainer. He is the host of the Emmy Award winning show “Extra,” and the national iHeart radio programs “On with Mario Lopez” and “iHeartRadio Countdown with Mario Lopez.” Lopez is a constant presence on the pop culture scene with a legion of fans across the board. Actor, NYT Best Selling author, producer and host, Lopez’s prolific career has made him one of the most sought-after personalities in entertainment today. Some of Lopez’s acting credits include This Is Us, Jane the Virgin, Nip/Tuck and Saved by the Bell, among many others. In 2008, Mario Lopez made his Broadway debut as Zach in the revival of A Chorus Line where he met his wife Courtney. Mario and Courtney have two adorable kids, Gia and Dominic and two dogs, Julio and Juanita.

STEFAN HOLT

Stefan Holt co-anchors NBC 4 New York’s 4 p.m and 11 p.m. daily newscasts. He also contributes to NBC 4 New York I-Team investigations throughout the Tri-State area. Holt was one of the first U.S. journalists to report live from Havana following the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro. He also co-anchored NBC 4 New York’s news coverage from the 2016 Presidential Debate at Hofstra University and NBC 4 New York’s 2016 Election Night coverage from 30 Rock. He later travelled to Washington, D.C. to co-anchor the station’s coverage of the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. In recognition of his commitment to journalistic excellence, Holt was recognized with a regional Edward R. Murrow award as part of NBC 4 New York’s team coverage of the 2017 Tribeca terrorist attack. Holt has also been recognized with three New York Emmys(R) for NBC 4 New York’s team coverage of the 2016 Hoboken rail crash, 2017 Presidential Inauguration and the 2017 Bronx Lebanon Hospital shooting.

NATALIE PASQUARELLA

Natalie Pasquarella co-anchors NBC 4 New York’s 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. daily newscasts. She also contributes to NBC 4 New York I-Team investigations throughout the Tri-State area. Throughout her time at NBC 4 New York, Pasquarella has covered many of the Tri-State’s most memorable stories. This included the 2015 visit of Pope Francis to New York City and the 2016 Presidential Debate at Hofstra University. Pasquarella also co-anchored NBC 4 New York’s 2016 Election Night coverage from 30 Rock and later travelled to Washington, D.C. to co-anchor the station’s coverage of the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. In 2018, Pasquarella travelled to London to cover the 2018 Royal Wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. In recognition of her commitment to journalistic excellence, Pasquarella has been awarded four New York Emmys(R) as part of NBC 4 New York’s team coverage of the 2016 Dallas Police attacks, the 2016 Hoboken rail crash and the 2017 Bronx Lebanon Hospital shooting.

November 27, 2018 UPDATE:

Ella Mai, the New York City Ballet’s production of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker,” Rob Thomas and the Radio City Rockettes have been added to the list of spectacular performances slated for this year’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center®” telecast on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 8-10 p.m. ET/PT.

The new additions join previously announced performers Diana Ross, Tony Bennett & Diana Krall, Brett Eldredge, Darci Lynne Farmer, John Legend, Martina McBride, Pentatonix and Kellie Pickler in the annual celebration. NBC’s “Today” anchors Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker and Craig Melvin are set to host.

Tony Award winner Billy Porter as well as the PAL Cops & Kids Chorus in New York City, with a special introduction by Tony Danza, will also lend their voices to the additional live hour of the special to be broadcast on select NBC stations (7-8 p.m. ET). The regional hour will be co-hosted by “Extra’s” Mario Lopez and WNBC’s Stefan Holt and Natalie Pasquarella, and also feature additional songs from Diana Krall, Brett Eldredge, Darci Lynn Farmer, Martina McBride, Pentatonix and Kellie Pickler. Station list included below. Check local listings.

The tradition of the Rockefeller Christmas tree dates back to the Great Depression. First erected in 1931, the inaugural tree was decked with 700 lights and placed in front of the then eight-month-old RCA Building (the current Comcast Building). The Christmas tree gathering was enhanced in 1936 with the opening of the Rockefeller Plaza outdoor ice-skating pond. NBC-TV televised the tree lighting for the first time in 1951 on “The Kate Smith Show” and as part of the nationwide “Howdy Doody” television show from 1953-55

The 86th annual holiday special will celebrate the lighting of a 72-foot tall, 45-foot wide Norway Spruce from Wallkill, N.Y. The tree weighs approximately 12 tons and is approximately 75 years old.

It will be adorned with more than 50,000 multi-colored LEDs on approximately five miles of wire and topped with a new Swarovski star designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. The new three-dimensional star is 9 feet, 4 inches in diameter, weighs approximately 900 pounds and features 70 spikes covered in 3 million Swarovski crystals.

NBCUniversal is celebrating the 10th anniversary of our partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, kicking off with “Christmas in Rockefeller Center®.” As part of the company’s Green Is Universal initiative, the campaign will support tree-planting efforts to promote recovery in disaster-stricken areas. NBCUniversal’s $50,000 donation will restore tree canopies across the United States that have been destroyed by recent wildfires and hurricanes. The more than 100,000 trees planted since the partnership’s inception have helped to rebuild forests and communities, as well as provide beautification, cleaner air and water, and restoration of natural habitat.

ABOUT THE ADDITIONAL NATIONAL PERFORMERS:

ELLA MAI

Ella Mai is a British singer-songwriter. She released her first EP, “Time,” in 2016, followed by her second EP, “Change,” later that year. Her third EP, “Ready,” featured “Boo’d Up,” which later became her breakthrough hit. Ella Mai has served as the opening act for both Kehlani and Bruno Mars on tour, where she continued to gain the public’s attention. In August, she released the single “Trip,” which peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. She released her self-titled debut in October of this year, which charted #5 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums and #1 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums upon release last month. Her album includes the smash multi-platinum hit singles “Boo’d Up” and “Trip.”

NEW YORK CITY BALLET

New York City Ballet’s acclaimed production of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” premiered in 1954 and has been performed in New York City every year since. Set to Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky’s glorious score, “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” features choreography by Balanchine, scenery by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, costumes by Karinska and lighting by Mark Stanley, after the original design by Ronald Bates. More than 100,000 people see the production each year. The New York City Ballet (NYCB) will perform “Candy Canes” from Act 2 of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.” The segment will feature NYCB Principal Dancer Daniel Ulbricht as well as students from the School of American Ballet, NYCB’s official school. The New York City Ballet opened its annual season of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” on Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and will run until Dec. 30.

ROB THOMAS

Rob Thomas is one of modern music’s most compelling and commercially successful artists. For 20 years, he has been the frontman and primary composer for Matchbox Twenty, leading the quintet to multiplatinum success over the course of four albums and a string of #1 hits. Thomas’ two solo albums, 2005’s platinum-certified No. 1 album “…Something to Be” and 2009’s “cradlesong” generated the hit singles “Her Diamonds” and “Someday.” Thomas made history with “…Something to Be” as having the first album by a male artist from a rock or pop group to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 since the chart had debuted. With “cradlesong” he made history once again as the only male artist with multiple #1 hits at Adult Top 40. His last release, 2015’s “The Great Unknown,” was praised by the likes of Rolling Stone. Thomas has also collaborated with Mick Jagger on the #1 single “Disease,” Willie Nelson and Santana, the latter resulting in 1999’s “Smooth” — the Latin-tinged blockbuster that earned Thomas three Grammy Awards and spent 12 weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. In 2004, he was the first-ever honoree of the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s prestigious Hal David Starlight Award, created to recognize a composer in the early years of his or her career that has already made a lasting impact. He has won numerous BMI and ASCAP Awards, and has earned the Songwriter of the Year crown from both Billboard and BMI. Thomas is also known as an electrifying live performer, drawing fans of all ages to Matchbox Twenty’s concerts as well as to his solo shows around the globe. Thomas is currently finishing up his next studio album which will be out in spring 2019.

THE RADIO CITY ROCKETTES

“The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes,” presented by Chase, is a beloved holiday tradition and seen by more than one million people each year at Radio City Music Hall. This year the show features a brand-new finale scene, “Christmas Lights,” a stunning example of how innovation is blended with tradition. The finale begins at the conclusion of the “Living Nativity” scene with the original light of Christmas – the North Star. Fragments of light suddenly appear as aerialists fly across the Great Stage. One hundred Intel Shooting Star mini drones, representing Christmas lights, create various images and animations that are synchronized to music and lighting effects. The Radio City Rockettes are then revealed, performing new choreography in glamorous new costumes designed by Tony and Drama Desk Award-nominated costume designer Emilio Sosa. The production is running now through Jan. 1, 2019 and tickets are on sale at www.rockettes.com/christmas and at the Radio City box office.

ABOUT THE ADDED REGIONAL PERFORMERS:

BILLY PORTER

Billy Porter stars on Ryan Murphy’s “Pose” on FX and has made several appearances this season on “American Horror Story.” Porter is a Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor, singer, director, composer and playwright from Pittsburgh. He is best known for his star turn as Lola in the smash hit Broadway musical “Kinky Boots,” for which he won the 2013 Drama Desk and Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Musical. Other Broadway acting credits include the Tony-nominated Broadway musical, “Shuffle Along,” “Miss Saigon,” “Five Guys Named Moe” and “Grease.” His one-man show, “Ghetto Superstar: The Man That I Am,” was nominated for a 2005 GLAAD Media Award. Porter’s film and television credits include Baz Luhrman’s “The Get Down,” “The Humbling” directed by Barry Levinson, “Another World,” “Twisted” and “Law & Order.” As a recording artist, Porter’s solo albums include his first CD, “Untitled,” and his sophomore album, “At the Corner of Broadway + Soul – LIVE.” “Billy’s Back on Broadway,” was released in 2014. Porter’s newest album, “The Soul of Richard Rodgers,” is released on Sony Masterworks. As a director, Porter directed the revivals of George C. Wolf’s plays, “The Colored Museum” and “Top Dog/Underdog” as well as the critically acclaimed recreation of “The Wiz.” Porter is currently filming the Paramount feature film “Limited Partners,” starring Tiffany Haddish, which will be out next summer.

THE PAL COPS & KIDS CHORUS IN NEW YORK CITY

The PAL Cops & Kids Chorus in New York City evolved from a songwriting project that engaged NYPD officers and PAL (Police Athletic League) teens in a process of creativity and discovery. The experience was so impactful that the officers and teens have continued to practice and perform original work and standards from the American songbook throughout the year. The PAL Cops & Kids Chorus provides a unique opportunity for New York City youth to form genuine relationships with NYPD officers, build self-esteem and perform in a variety of exciting venues throughout New York City. The Chorus is an initiative within the PAL Acting Program, under the leadership of PAL Board member Tony Danza. New York City’s Police Athletic League is the first and finest civilian-run PAL in the country. Founded in 1914, PAL has served the city’s young people for over 100 years. PAL provides recreational, educational, cultural and social activities to 30,000 boys and girls annually. It is also the city’s largest, independent, nonprofit youth organization. For more information, please visit www.palnyc.org.

TONY DANZA

Most recently starring in the Netflix series “The Good Cop,” Tony Danza has been one of the world’s most beloved and iconic entertainers for over 40 years. Perhaps best known for his starring roles on two of television’s most cherished and long-running series, “Taxi” and “Who’s The Boss,” Danza has also starred in hit films such as “Angels In Outfield,” “She’s Out of Control,” “Hollywood Knights,” and “Don Jon.” Well established as a song-and-dance man, Danza often tours with his hit live show, “Standards & Stories,” with the New York Times raving, “Tony’s a live wire who tap dances, plays the ukulele, tells stories and radiates irresistible charm. … He exudes the kind of charisma that can’t be taught.” Danza has starred on Broadway in “The Producers,” “A View from the Bridge,” and most recently received rave reviews for his performance in the Broadway musical comedy “Honeymoon In Vegas,” with the New York Times calling his performance “sly genius” and a “career high.”

STATIONS AIRING REGIONAL SHOW (7-8 P.M. ET):

WBGH (Binghamton, N.Y.), WYNC (Boston, Mass. – satellite of WBTS), WBTS (Boston, Mass.), WCBD (Charleston, S.C.), WVIR (Charlottesville, Va.), WETM (Elmira, N.Y.), WNBW (Gainesville, Fla.), WVIT (Hartford, Conn.), WTLV (Jacksonville, Fla.), WGAL (Lancaster, Pa.), WTVJ (Miami, Fla.), WNBC (New York, N.Y.), WKTD (Norfolk, Va.), WAVY (Norfolk, Va.), WPTV (Palm Beach, Fla.), WCAU (Philadelphia, Pa.), WRAL (Raleigh-Durham, N.C.), WRC (Washington, D.C. – jip at 7:30pm), WRDE (Salisbury, Md.), WTWC (Tallahassee, Fla.), WKTV (Utica, N.Y.), WVNC (Watertown, N.Y.), WTOV (Wheeling, W.V.)