The Camper-Waitress Goes to the Fair by
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The summer my friend Stephanie and I were too old to be a campers but not old enough to be counselors,   we worked as camper-waitresses at a children’s camp in the Connecticut foothills.   Stephanie and I went on to become life-long friends,  but a friendship cut too short by her cancer death at age 65.  (See Aunt Miriam, Diva,  and Postcards from a Secret Admirer)

But what fun memories we had of that summer!  Our parents had paid partial camp tuition for us to have the privilege of working there –   and hard work it was!    We had to be at the dining hall bright and early to eat breakfast,  then wait on the campers,  then clear the tables,  and then set-up for lunch.

We had a few hours off and then back to eat our lunch,  then wait on the campers,  then clear the tables ,  and then set-up for dinner.   And then a few hours off before dinner.

And what did we do with those hours off?   I think we spent much of that time flirting with the camper waiters,  maybe taking a swim,  or drifting aimlessly out on the lake in a canoe,  or playing a little tennis,  and then back to the dining hall to flirt some more with the camper waiters.

But one day we packed box lunches and went with the campers and counselors to the Danbury Fair.   I don’t remember all we saw and did at the fair that day,   but I do remember one very special attraction.

Although like any 50s teenager I loved rock ‘n’ roll,  I also loved to listen to my parents’ LPs –  Gershwin,  and Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes,  hot and cool jazz,  and the Great American Songbook.

And although on that hazy summer day I might not have known she had perfect pitch,  or that she had perfected scat,  or that years later a music critic would declare her voice too joyous to sing the blues –  I knew I was in the presence of a great songstress when Ella Fitzgerald took the stage at the Danbury Fair!

Dana Susan Lehrman 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Ella Fitzgerald, Camps


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    What a fantastic memory, and how lucky you were! Who’d-a-thunk Ella would be at the Danbury Fair? I also am partial to the Great American Songbook, thanks to my dad. Of course Ella was one of the favorites.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    As a Connecticut boy, I do know aboutt he Danbury Fair — and have driven by the fairgrounds just off Rte. 7 — many times. But I never went and, as you can imagine from my own story, I don’t exactly hunt for these events. But I always knew that it was a big deal, with big-time entertainment, as the presence of Ella would attest to. So I am so glad that you had these great experiences there. And great memories now.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wow, Dana. Sounds like a lot of hard work, with a little bit of play, but what a reward you got that day! Hard to imagine Ella playing the Danbury State Fair. So cool!

  4. Marian says:

    Amazing surprise, Dana, to be able to hear Ella. Hard to believe these famous stars played at fairs. What a reward for being a camper-waitress.

    • Yes Marian, Ella was already a star by then – but I’m sure I didn’t dream it – if so I’ve lived with that dream memory for years!

      We love jazz and have seen many greats in concert and cabaret, but that was the only time I saw Ella!

  5. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Dana! How funny that your parents had to pay partial tuition for you to be camper-waitresses. I think that was a common arrangement for C.I.T.s or junior counselors, but being waitresses seems like harder work! But how great that you went to the fair on the day that Ella was singing there. Must have been mesmerizing!

    • Thanx Suzy. We were so young, I guess a little hard work didn’t faze us!

      I think it was the radio DJ Jonathan Schwartz who said Ella’s voice was too joyous to sing the blues.

      On the other hand we saw Cyndi Lauper in concert after she had made her album Delta Blues. She said this great line – “I love the blues, they’re so uplifting!”. And the other night we saw a TV documentary about Chuck Berry who said if you have the blues and sing about them, you feel better!

      I’m sure as a singer, blues or not, you always feel better when you sing!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, how lucky were you to hear her in person. Thanks for sharing this great memory.

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