Ella Jane Fitzgerald
April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996
Ella was an renowned American jazz vocalist with a vocal range spanning three octaves (D♭3 to D♭6). She has been referred to as the “First Lady of Song” and the “Queen of Jazz,” she was noted for her purity of her passion, tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and a way of imitating every musical instrument that was in existenc, improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing. She has sand with the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. She was as a main artist and role model to cross all bridges and gain a wide range of audiences which were from the rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities.
Ella was a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook.Over the course of her 60-year recording career, she sold 40 million copies of her 70-plus albums, won 13 Grammy Awards and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush.
Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born on April 25,1917 in Newport News Virgina to William and Temperance also known as Tempie. Her parents divorce. Ella and her mother relocated to New York to the city of Yonkers to be with Joseph Da Silva her mother boyfriend. Her mother and Joseph were married which produced her sister Frances which was born in 1923 . She eventually gave her stepfather the due respect and refered to him as her father. Joseph was a mason he worked in construction and chauffer. Her mother had a position in a local laundry service.Her home environment was filled with morals and ethics . Ella was a very outgoing person and was liked by many. She took part in sport activities, singing, and dancing. One of Ella favorite thing to do was on the weekend make a trip to the Apollo theater to see the acts for she had a passion for the entertainment industry
Ella mother Termperance was in a car accident died from serious injuries in 1932. Ella took the loss very hard. After staying with Joe for a short time, Tempie’s sister Virginia took Ella home. Shortly afterward Joe suffered a heart attack and died, and her little sister Frances joined them.
Unable to adjust to the new circumstances, Ella became increasingly unhappy and entered into a difficult tribulation period of her life. She could not focus on her academic courses in school and her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. Living there was even more unbearable, as she suffered beatings at the hands of her caretakers.
Eventually Ella escaped from the reformatory. Ella at at the age of 15 found herself broke and alone during the Great Depression she regrouped and was resilient with a passion to survive and be successful .
. She used the memories of the trials and tribulations in her life from those situations to help gather emotions for performances, and felt she was more grateful for her success because she knew what it was like to struggle in life.
n 1934 Ella’s name was pulled in a weekly drawing at the Apollo and she won the opportunity to compete in Amateur Night. Ella went to the theater that night planning to dance, but when she decided to sing. She asked the band there to play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy,” a song she knew well because Connee Boswell’s rendition of it was among her mother favorites by the end of the song the audience were demanding an encore. She did obliged and sang the flip side of the Boswell Sister’s record, “The Object of My Affections.”
In the band that night was saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter. Impressed with her natural talent, he began introducing Ella to people who could help launch her career. In the process he and Ella became lifelong friends, often working together.
Ella made her first recording in 1936 named “Love and Kisses” was released under the Decca label, with moderate success. By this time she was performing with Chick’s band at the prestigious Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. Shortly afterward, Ella began singing a rendition of the song, “(If You Can’t Sing It) You Have to Swing It.” During this time, the era of big swing bands was shifting, and the focus was turning more toward bebop. Ella played with the new style, often using her voice to take on the role of another horn in the band. “You Have to Swing It” was one of the first times she began experimenting with scat singing, and her improvisation and vocalization thrilled fans. Throughout her career, Ella would master scat singing, turning it into a form of art.
Ella now at 21 years old recorded a playful version of the nursery rhyme in 1938, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” The album sold 1 million copies, hit number one, and stayed on the pop charts for 17 weeks. Suddenly, Ella Fitzgerald was famous.
On June 16, 1939, Ella mourned the loss of her mentor Chick Webb. In his absence the band was renamed “Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Band,” and she took on the overwhelming task of bandleader.
Perhaps in search of stability and protection, Ella married Benny Kornegay, a local dockworker who had been pursuing her. Upon learning that Kornegay had a criminal history, Ella realized that the relationship was a mistake and had the marriage annulled.
While on tour with Dizzy Gillespie’s band in 1946, Ella fell in love with bassist Ray Brown. The two were married and eventually adopted a son, whom they named Ray, Jr.
Ray Brown was working for producer and manager Norman Granz on the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” tour. Norman saw that Ella had what it took to be an international star, and he convinced Ella to sign with him. It was the beginning of a lifelong business relationship and friendship.
Under Norman’s management, Ella joined the Philharmonic tour, worked with Louis Armstrong on several albums and began producing her infamous songbook series. From 1956-1964, she recorded covers of other musicians’ albums, including those by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart. The series was wildly popular, both with Ella’s fans and the artists she covered.
Ella also began appearing on television variety shows. She quickly became a favorite and frequent guest on numerous programs, including “The Bing Crosby Show,” “The Dinah Shore Show,” “The Frank Sinatra Show,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “The Nat King Cole Show,” “The Andy Willams Show” and “The Dean Martin Show.”
Due to a busy touring schedule, Ella and Ray were often away from home, straining the bond with their son. Ultimately, Ray Jr. and Ella reconnected and mended their relationship.
“All I can say is that she gave to me as much as she could,” Ray, Jr. later said, “and she loved me as much as she could.”
Unfortunately, busy work schedules also hurt Ray and Ella’s marriage. The two divorced in 1952, but remained good friends for the rest of their lives.
On the touring circuit it was well-known that Ella’s manager felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians, regardless of their color. Norman refused to accept any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants or concert halls, even when they traveled to the Deep South.
Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman’s principles barged backstage to hassle the performers. They came into Ella’s dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone.
“They took us down,” Ella later recalled, “and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph.”
Norman wasn’t the only one willing to stand up for Ella. She received support from numerous celebrity fans, including a zealous Marilyn Monroe.
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Ella later said. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”
Ella continued to work as hard as she had early on in her career, despite the ill effects on her health. She toured all over the world, sometimes performing two shows a day in cities hundreds of miles apart. In 1974, Ella spent a legendary two weeks performing in New York with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Still going strong five years later, she was inducted into the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame, and received Kennedy Center Honors for her continuing contributions to the arts.
Outside of the arts, Ella had a deep concern for child welfare. Though this aspect of her life was rarely publicized, she frequently made generous donations to organizations for disadvantaged youths, and the continuation of these contributions was part of the driving force that prevented her from slowing down. Additionally, when Frances died, Ella felt she had the additional responsibilities of taking care of her sister’s family.
In 1987, United States President Ronald Reagan awarded Ella the National Medal of Arts. It was one of her most prized moments. France followed suit several years later, presenting her with their Commander of Arts and Letters award, while Yale, Dartmouth and several other universities bestowed Ella with honorary doctorates.
In September of 1986, Ella underwent quintuple coronary bypass surgery. Doctors also replaced a valve in her heart and diagnosed her with diabetes, which they blamed for her failing eyesight. The press carried rumors that she would never be able to sing again, but Ella proved them wrong. Despite protests by family and friends, including Norman, Ella returned to the stage and pushed on with an exhaustive schedule.
By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums. In 1991, she gave her final concert at New York’s renowned Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she performed there.
As the effects from her diabetes worsened, Ella experienced severe circulatory problems and was forced to have both of her legs amputated below the knees. She never fully recovered from the surgery, and afterward, was rarely able to perform. During this time, Ella enjoyed sitting outside in her backyard, and spending time with Ray, Jr. and her granddaughter Alice.
“I just want to smell the air, listen to the birds and hear Alice laugh,” she said.
On June 15, 1996, Ella Fitzgerald died in her Beverly Hills home. Hours later, signs of remembrance began to appear all over the world. A wreath of white flowers stood next to her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a marquee outside the Hollywood Bowl theater read, “Ella, we will miss you.”
After a private memorial service, traffic on the freeway was stopped to let her funeral procession pass through. She was laid to rest in the “Sanctuary of the Bells” section of the Sunset Mission Mausoleum at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif.
“Before there was including a Diana Ross, Whitney Elizabeth Houston, Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Janet Jackson, as major cross over female black artist there was Ella Fitzgerald with the impeccable songstress.” Neville Sobers
Ella Fitzgerald was a lady always with a winning smile, role model filled with integrity and morals. She had an impeccable passion for what she did as an entertainer she gave herself to the world. She will always be remembered.
Ella Fitzgerald has received the following honors in her name:
The career history and archival material from Ella’s long career are housed in the Archives Center at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, while her personal music arrangements are at the Library of Congress. Her extensive cookbook collection was donated to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University, and her extensive collection of published sheet music was donated to UCLA.
In 1997, Newport News, Virginia created a music festival with Christopher Newport University to honor Ella Fitzgerald in her birth city. The Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival is designed to teach the region’s youth of the musical legacy of Fitzgerald and jazz.
In 2008, the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center in Newport News named its brand new 276-seat theater the Ella Fitzgerald Theater. The theater is located several blocks away from her birthplace on Marshall Avenue..
In 2013, Google paid tribute to Ella by celebrating her 96th birthday with a Google Doodle on its US homepage.
There is a bronze sculpture of Fitzgerald in Yonkers, the city in which she grew up, created by American artist Vinnie Bagwell. It is located southeast of the main entrance to the Amtrak Metro-North Railroad station in front of the city’s old trolley barn.
A bust of Fitzgerald is on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California.
On January 9, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that Fitzgerald would be honored with her own postage stamp released in April 2007 as part of the Postal Service’s Black Heritage series.