Library to Unveil Fitzgerald Cookbooks

Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library plans to unveil a collection of Ella Fitzgerald's cookbooks bequeathed to the library by the late jazz singer's estate last summer.

Officials at the library said that while the books arrived three weeks ago, they are uncertain when they will be made available.

Barbara Haber, curator of books at Schlesinger Library, said the library was contacted in July by the lawyer for Fitzgerald's estate about the donation of her extensive cookbook collection.

Fitzgerald, a legendary figure in the music world for her contributions to jazz, died last June at the age of 79. In June 1990, she received an honorary doctorate from the University.

According to Fran Morris-Rosman, one of the directors of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation and the archivist of Fitzgerald's estate, the foundation decided to donate her cookbooks to Harvard because the Schlesinger Library has the best cookbook collection in the country.


The Schlesinger Library, which specializes in women's history, has a collection of about 12,000 cookbooks, according to Haber.

"Ella Fitzgerald was inordinately proud of her cookbook collection," Morris-Rosman said. "In interviews, she almost always mentioned them."

The reason Fitzgerald amassed such a large collection is somewhat out of the ordinary, Morris-Rosman said.

"According to her son, Ray Brown, Jr., Ella never cooked," Morris-Rosman said. "She read the cookbooks like most people read a novel, even annotating in the margins."

"However, Ella always loved to eat," Morris-Rosman said. "Even toward the end, when she was severely limited in diet because of her diabetes and heart condition, she loved to talk about food."

All of Fitzgerald's cookbooks will be on the browsing shelves of Schlesinger Library once they are catalogued. The bookplate inside will read "From the Estate of Ella Fitzgerald, First Lady of Song," Haber said.

"Ella's bookplate will add value to the books and luster to the library," Haber said.

According to Haber, Fitzgerald's collection numbers about 300 books. It is not a rare collection, but contains many general books.

The collection, which spans from the 1970s to the 1990s, has several books that feature Southern food and cookbooks by African-American and Jewish writers, Haber said.

"Basically, she seemed to like hearty food," Haber said.

According to Haber, cookbooks are important in women's history and many people choose to collect them.

"Cookbooks give a sense of everyday life for women throughout history," Haber said. "Our collection is comprised of many private donations, including papers and cookbooks of Julia Child.

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