Freda Payne stars in ‘Ella, First Lady of Song’ at Meadow Brook Theatre

Michigan premiere runs May 29 – June 23, 2024, on the campus of Oakland University

L to R: Debra Walton as Young Ella, Nicole Powell as Young Georgiana, Freda Payne as Ella Fitzgerald, and Eric Coles as Norman Granz. Photo courtesty of Sean Carter Photograpy.

Ella, First Lady of Song traces the 60-year career of the woman Mel Torme called “the best singer on the planet.” The story of Ella Fitzgerald truly challenges the age-old saying “The show must go on.” From the Apollo Theater to the Côte d’Azur, this jazz musical covers Fitzgerald’s hardscrabble childhood to her enduring legacy in the music world, and beyond. Songs include classics such as “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “A-Tisket A-Tasket,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

The jazz musical, conceived by Maurice Hines and written and directed by Lee Summers, runs May 29 through June 23, 2024, at Meadow Brook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

“Ella Fitzgerald’s story is fascinating” Travis W. Walter, MBT artistic director. “We’re thrilled to have Lee Summers here to direct the show he wrote, and with Freda Payne starring, this is going to be a fantastic production. We are so lucky to have such a talented performer play this musical legend.”

Freda Payne is a Detroit native and Grammy Award-nominated artist. Her song “Band of Gold” reached number 3 in the US and was certified Gold. It reached the peak position on the UK singles chart and remained #1 for six weeks in 1970.

The remainder of the cast for Ella, First Lady of Song includes Nicole Powell as Georgiana Henry and Young Georgiana, Debra Walton as Young Ella and Frances Da Silva, and Eric Coles as Norman Granz, Young Norman, and Joe Da Silva.

Ella, First Lady of Song is directed by Lee Summers with Arelis Cruz assisting him. Scenic design is by Kirk A. Domer, costume design by Karen Kangas Preston, and hair and wig design by Wendy Evans. Lighting design is by Eric Van Tassell, assisted by Ava Bell, projection design by Jeromy Hopgood, and sound design by Mike Duncan. Brittanie Nichole Sicker is the stage manager and Lee Cleaveland is the assistant stage manager.

The band is led by musical director Dionne Hendricks on piano and includes Greg Bufford (drums), Gregory Jones (upright bass), Bobby LaVell (reeds), Patrick Adams (trumpet), and Dennis Wilson (trombone). In addition, the band supplements the cast by providing additional characters.

Tickets range from $37 to $46 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing. Ella, First Lady of Song is suggested for audience members in middle school and up.

Ella, First Lady of Song is made possible through the generous support of The Michigan Arts and Cultural Council, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and the Meadow Brook Theatre Guild.

Meadow Brook Theatre is a professional theatre located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. For additional information, please visit or call 248-377-3300. Meadow Brook Theatre is a nonprofit, cultural institution serving southeast Michigan for 57 years.


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