It all began with her rare sweet voice. That magical, one-of-a-kind voice with which she first dazzled audiences in New York, and later the world. Ella Fitzgerald is one of the greatest jazz singers in history. Popularly known as the “queen of jazz”, Ella was a legend for her career in jazz that spanned some six decades. She became the first African-American singer to win a Grammy Award.
Ella Jane Fitzgerald, was born on April 25, 1917, in Virginia, U.S. Growing up, Ella loved to be a dancer. 15-year-old Ella joined a dancing contest only to realise her true calling. It was on an amateur night at the famous Apollo Theatre where Ella was hoping to show off her dancing talent. When she was called to perform, Ella got cold feet. The audience was growing restless and Ella spontaneously decided to sing. It was a song by the Boswell Sisters. As the orchestra accompanied her, Ella grew more confident and completed the song to the applause of the crowd.
Soon after, Ella found musician Chick Webb and joined his group as a singer. She made her first recording, “Love and Kisses,” in 1935. Her first hit song ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket', followed in 1938. After Webb’s death, she took over the band until it broke up in 1942.
A Jazz Icon
Ella’s career rose dramatically in the 1950s when she met Norman Granz, the founder of the famous Jazz at the Philharmonic concert series. He became her manager and founded the record label Verve, especially for her.
She toured internationally with jazz stars such as Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Ella recorded a 19-volume series of “songbooks,” from 1956 to 1964. In these, she interpreted nearly 250 outstanding songs by Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and Johnny Mercer. This material, combined with the best jazz instrumental support, demonstrated Fitzgerald’s remarkable interpretative skills. According to jazz historians, her diction was excellent and her rendition of lyrics was intuitive rather than studied.
Ella recorded a number of live concert albums and produced a duet version of Porgy and Bess (1957) with Armstrong. She also appeared in films (notably Pete Kelly’s Blues in 1955), on television, and in concert halls throughout the world.
Achievements and Awards
Fitzgerald mastered rhythm, harmony, intonation, and diction to match her clear tone and wide vocal range. She was an excellent ballad singer, conveying an ingenuous quality. She pioneered the technique of ‘scatting' while singing, which became her signature. Her infectious scat singing brought excitement to such concert recordings as Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin and was widely imitated by others. She garnered 14 Grammy Awards including one for lifetime achievement. She also received a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement (1979) and the National Medal of Arts (1987).
She was also one of the best-selling jazz vocal recording artists in history.
During the 1970s Ella began to experience serious health problems. In 1993, her career was curtailed following complications stemming from diabetes, which resulted in the amputation of both her legs below the knees. She gave her last concert in New York in 1991, in the city where it all began. On June 15, 1996, she passed on at the age of 79 in her house in Beverly Hills.
Ella Fitzgerald is one name that changed the face of jazz music for good. More importantly, she was instrumental in opening up the world of music for women.
Information from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ella-Fitzgerald, https://www.dw.com/en/first-lady-of-jazz-ella-fitzgeralds-100th-anniversary-of-birth/a-38472109, https://www.idiva.com/womens-month/the-first-ladies/ella-fitzgerald-the-first-woman-to-win-multiple-grammys-and-change-the-face-of-jazz-music/17075302 was used in this story.