Ella Fitzgerald is considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the twentieth century. Her vocal range spanned three octaves, and her recording career lasted over 50 years. She won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. She was known as "Lady Ella" and "The First Lady of Song."
She was born in 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. Her childhood was very troubled, but she found some solace in music, and she dreamed of being a dancer. She was particularly inspired by Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. Fitzgerald debuted at the Apollo Theater in 1934 at the age of 17. She won an amateur night contest and impressed bandleader Benny Carter. He recommended her to drummer and bandleader Chick Webb, and she was hired to tour with his group.
By 1940, Fitzgerald was known throughout the world as a vocal wonder. She had a flexible range, clear tone, and the ability to improvise and make up vocals without practice or preparation. She had a superb memory and an incredible ability to quickly learn new songs.
She won the admiration of not only fans, but many famous musicians. She sang with Dizzy Gillespie's band, and she sang the way saxophonists played. She was known for scat singing, which is singing harmonic variations of music using nonsense syllables. She worked with many other famous artists including Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong.
Fitzgerald was married twice. Her first marriage was annulled after two years. Her second husband was Ray Brown, a famous bass player. They adopted a son, Ray Brown, Jr. Ella Fitzgerald and Brown were divorced, but they remained friends and continued to perform together.
Fitzgerald toured more than 40 weeks a year. Besides touring and recording, she made feature film appearances. She recorded not only jazz music, but country music, pop music, and Christmas music. She was accompanied sometimes by piano, and sometimes by acoustic guitar or electric guitar. She appeared in television shows including The Bing Crosby Show, Tonight Show, and the Frank Sinatra Show.
By the early 1980s, Fitzgerald's health began to decline. She was diagnosed with diabetes and her eyesight began to fail. She had coronary bypass surgery in 1986, but continued to tour. Her final concert was at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1991.
Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in America for more than fifty years. Learn more about this great legend from the following resources:
In her lifetime, Ella Fitzgerald recorded over 200 albums and approximately 2,000 songs. Audiences continued to love her, even when she sometimes forgot lyrics, and when her voice showed some signs of wearing thin as she aged. She died of complications of diabetes in 1996.