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Ella Fitzgerald



Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 Ė June 15, 1996) also known as "Lady Ella," was an American Jazz and Song vocalist. With a vocal range spanning three octaves she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing. She is considered to be a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over a recording career that lasted 59 years, she was the winner of 14 Grammies and was awarded the National Medal of Art by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H W Bush.

Fitzgerald was born in Virginia, the child of  William and Temperance "Tempie" Fitzgerald. The pair separated soon after her birth and she and her mother moved to Yonkers, New York with Tempie's boyfriend, Joseph Da Silva. Fitzgerald's half-sister, Frances Da Silva, was born in 1923.

In her youth Fitzgerald wanted to be a dancer, although she loved listening to Jazz recordings by Louis Armstrong and The Boswell Sisters. She idolized the lead singer, later saying, "My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it....I tried so hard to sound just like her."

In 1932, her mother died from a heart attack. Following this, Fitzgerald's grades dropped dramatically and she frequently skipped school. Abused by her stepfather, she was first taken in by an aunt  and at one point worked as a lookout at a Bordello. When the authorities caught up with her, she was first placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale, The Bronx. However, when the orphanage proved too crowded she was moved to the New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York, a state reformatory. Eventually she escaped and for a time was forced to live on the streets!

She made her singing debut at 17 on November 21, 1934 at the Apollo in Harlem. She pulled in a weekly audience and won the opportunity to compete in one of the earliest of its famous "Amateur Nights". She had originally intended to go on stage and dance but, intimidated by the Edwards Sisters, a local dance duo, she opted to sing instead in the style of  Connee Boswell. She sang Boswell's "Judy" and "The Object of My Affection," a song recorded by the Boswell Sisters, and won the first prize of $25.

Fitzgerald married at least twice, and there is evidence that she may have married a third time. In 1941 she married Benny Kornegay, a convicted drug dealer. The marriage lasted  two years.

She then married Ray Brown, whom she had met while on tour with Dizzy Gillespie's band a year earlier. Together they adopted a child born to Fitzgerald's half-sister, Frances,  With Fitzgerald and Brown often busy touring and recording, the child was largely raised by her aunt, Virginia. Fitzgerald and Brown divorced in 1953, owing to the various career pressures both were experiencing at the time, though they would continue to perform together.

Fitzgerald was also notoriously shy.  Mario Bauza, who played behind Fitzgerald in her early years with Chick Webb, remembered that she didnít hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music. She was a lonely girl around New York, and just kept herself to herself for the gig. When, later in her career, the Society of Singers named an award after her, Fitzgerald explained, "I don't want to say the wrong thing, which I always do. I think I do better when I sing."

Already visually impaired by the effects of diabetes. Fitzgerald had both her legs amputated in 1993. In 1996 she died of the disease at the age of 79. The career history and archival material from Ella's long career are housed in the Archives Centre at the Smithsonian Institute of American History,  while her personal music arrangements are at the Library of Congress.

As well as bringing the American Songbook to the fore......singing the work of Cole Porter ...George and Ira Gershwin....Richard Rogers....... and many many more.....she perhaps more than any vocalist legitimised the development of Jazz. She developed a technique of imitating the horn players with what became known as Scat singing. Her voice would run the musical lines as played by the horns while inventing little words ...bop scoo bee doo wah be bop. This in itself eventually lent its name to a whole genre of Jazz as developed by Charlie Parker.....Be Bop!!

As if any more evidence were needed... Ella then takes a 1968 tune..... "Sunshine of your Love" ....and gives it the Jazz treatment. Remarkable!!


The Music of Ella Fitzgerald

One Note Samba


All The Things You Are

Cry Me a River

With Louis Armstrong......Dream a Little Dream

Every Time We Say Goodbye

With Duke Ellington...Take The A Train

Berlin...1968.. Parts 1... 2... and 3.

Sunshine of your Love


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