Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald Biography | Jazz Legend

Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” alongside Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, is one of the most renowned jazz singers of all time. Not only was she excellent in execution, but her swing feel and scat singing were incomparable.

Fitzgerald grew up in complete poverty. She was born in 1917 to parents who separated shortly after her birth and was orphaned in 1932 at the age of fifteen when her mother passed away due to a heart attack. She moved in with her aunt but was eventually sent to an orphanage. After running away, she was, in fact, homeless for almost an entire year. Luckily, however, she earned her big break at an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1934.

She began to work with Tiny Bradshaw and then later Chick Webb who was initially reluctant to sign her. After a one night audition, she began to sing regularly with the group. In 1939, Webb passed away and in 1941, Fitzgerald went solo.

During the 1940s, Ella partnered with Louis Jordan, the Delta Rhythm Boys and then Dizzy Gillespie. It was a part of this latter collaboration that she began to incorporate bop into her style which up until this point had primarily been pop and swing.

In the 1950s she signed with Verve and began releasing her songbook series recordings beginning with the Cole Porter Songbook in 1965. The Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, Ellington, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer songbooks followed.

In the 1970s she had the opportunity to work with other notable performers such as Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, and Joe Pass, but in the 1980s, her career began to decline due to health issues. In 1994 she retired and in 1996 she passed away at the age of 79.

Browse Ella Fitzgerald albums and biographies on Amazon.

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Published on: May 22, 2014

Filled Under: Interviews

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