Ella Fitzgerald also known as the "First Lady of Song" and "Lady Ella," was born Ella Jane Fitzgerald on April 25, 1917 . She passed June 15,1996 . During the time in between, she was, arguably, the greatest female jazz vocalist of her or any time, and one of the best vocalists, male or female, of all time. 
Blessed with a vocal range spanning three octaves (Db3 to Db6), a purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, her arsenal of vocal talents was seemingly limitless. Her swing singing and her scat became so versatile she eventually outshone the great Louis Armstrong who gave birth to scatting. Her staccato scat is reminiscent of the fantastic flights of notes issued from the saxophone of Charlie "Bird" Parker.
Over the course of her 59 year recording career, she was the winner of 13 Grammy Awards. In her later years she was lauded as one of the greatest performers in United States history. Fitzgerald was bestowed the National Medal of Arts by President Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by his successor, President George H. W. Bush.
Ella appeared in numerous film and video performances singing over the decades.
Fitzgerald's recording history is so deep and long that her discography goes pages.
Fitzgerald recorded hundreds of songs including many that are both Jazz Standards and the reference standard recordings of songs of the American Songbook.
Ella was greatly hampered in her acting career by the pervasive racism of her time, but she, along with Louis Armstrong was one of the few to poke early holes in the color barrier. She also appeared in numerous television specials, shows and commercials through the years.
Her parents separated soon after her birth. Ella and her mother went to Yonkers, N.Y, where they eventually moved in with Tempie's longtime 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, Bing Crosby and The Boswell Sisters. She idolized the lead singer Connee Boswell, 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 trauma, Fitzgerald's grades dropped dramatically. 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 and also with a Mafia-affiliated numbers runner. 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 homeless.
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 and local dockworker. The marriage was annulled after two years.
Together they adopted a child born to Fitzgerald's half-sister, Frances, whom they christened Ray Brown, Jr. With Fitzgerald and Brown often busy touring and recording, the child was largely raised by her aunt, Virginia. Fitzgerald and Brown divorced in 1953, bowing to the various career pressures both were experiencing at the time, though they would continue to perform together.
In July 1957, Reuters reported that Fitzgerald had secretly married Thor Einar Larsen, a young Norwegian, in Oslo. She had even gone as far as furnishing an apartment in Oslo, but the affair was quickly forgotten when Larsen was sentenced to five months hard labor in Sweden for stealing money from a young woman to whom he had previously been engaged.
Fitzgerald was also notoriously shy. Trumpet player Mario Bauza, who played behind Fitzgerald in her early years with Chick Webb, remembered that "she didn’t hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music… She was a lonely girl around New York, 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 in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 79. She is buried in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.
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 while her published sheet music collection is at the Schoenberg Library at UCLA.
Fitzgerald made her singing debut at 17 on November 21, 1934 at the Apollo Theater. in Harlem, New York. She won the opportunity to compete in one of the earliest of its famous "Amateur Nights". Ella 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 US$25.00.. She pulled in a weekly audience at the Apollo and eventually established herself as a rising vocal talent.
In January 1935, Fitzgerald won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. She met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb there. Webb had already hired singer Charlie Linton to work with the band and was, as The New York Times later wrote, "reluctant to sign her....because she was gawky and unkempt, a diamond in the rough." Webb offered her the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University.
She began singing regularly with Webb's Orchestra through 1935 at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. Fitzgerald recorded several hit songs with them, including "Love and Kisses" and "(If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)". It was her 1938 swing version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket", a song she co-wrote, that brought her wide public acclaim. It became one of the anthem songs of the WWII era Big Bands.
Chick Webb died on June 16, 1939, and his band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra" with Ella taking on the role of nominal bandleader. Fitzgerald recorded nearly 150 sides with the orchestra before Decca Records wooed Ella off as a solo act and the band broke up in 1942.
The Decca yearsEdit
In 1942, Fitzgerald left the band to begin a solo career. Now signed to the Decca label, she had several popular hits while recording with such artists as the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and the Delta Rhythm Boys.
With Decca's Milt Gabler as her manager, she began working regularly for the jazz impresario Norman Granz, and appeared regularly in his Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) concerts. Fitzgerald's relationship with Granz was further cemented when he became her manager, although it would be nearly a decade before he could record her on one of his many record labels.
The advent of led to new developments in Fitzgerald's vocal style, influenced by her work with Dizzy Gillespie's big band. It was in this period that Fitzgerald started including scat singing as a major part of her performance repertoire.
"I just tried to do [with my voice] what I heard the horns in the band doing," Fitzgerald told CNN in an interview.
Her 1945 scat recording of Flying Home (arranged by Vic Schoen) would later be described by The New York Times as "one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the decade....Where other singers, most notably Louis Armstrong, had tried similar improvisation, no one before Miss Fitzgerald employed the technique with such dazzling inventiveness." Her bebop recording of "Oh, Lady be Good!" (1947) was similarly popular and increased her reputation as one of the leading jazz vocalists.
Perhaps responding to criticism and under pressure from Granz, who felt that Fitzgerald was given unsuitable material to record during this period, her last years on the Decca label saw Fitzgerald recording a series of duets with pianist Ellis Larkins, released in 1950 as Ella Sings Gershwin.
The Verve YearsEdit
Fitzgerald was still performing at Granz's JATP concerts by 1955. Fitzgerald left Decca and Granz, now her manager, created Verve Records around her, seeking to broaden her mass-market appeal beyond the rebellious BeBop music which was coming to define her.
Fitzgerald later described the period as strategically crucial.
"I had gotten to the point where I was only singing be-bop. I thought be-bop was 'it,' and that all I had to do was go some place and sing bop. But it finally got to the point where I had no place to sing. I realized then that there was more to music than bop. Norman....felt that I should do other things, so he produced The Cole Porter Songbook with me. It was a turning point in my life."
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, released in 1956, was the first of eight multi-album Songbook sets Fitzgerald would record for Verve at irregular intervals from 1956 to 1964. The composers and lyricists spotlighted on each set, taken together, represent the greatest part of the cultural canon known as the Great American Songbook. Fitzgerald's song selections ranged from standards to rarities and represented an attempt by Fitzgerald to cross over into a non-jazz audience.
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook was the only Songbook on which the composer she interpreted played with her. Duke Ellington and his longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn both appeared on exactly half the set's 38 tracks and wrote two new pieces of music for the album: "The E and D Blues" and a four-movement musical portrait of Fitzgerald (the only Songbook track on which Fitzgerald does not sing).
The Songbook series ended up becoming the singer's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work, and probably her most significant offering to American culture. The New York Times wrote in 1996, "These albums were among the first pop records to devote such serious attention to individual songwriters, and they were instrumental in establishing the pop album as a vehicle for serious musical exploration."
A few days after Fitzgerald's death, New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote that in the Songbook series Fitzgerald "performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis's contemporaneous integration of white and African-American soul. Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians." Frank Sinatra was moved out of respect for Fitzgerald to block Capitol Records from re-releasing his own recordings in a similar, single composer vein.
Ella Fitzgerald also recorded albums exclusively devoted to the songs of Porter and Gershwin in 1972 and 1983; the albums being, respectively, Ella Loves Cole and Nice Work If You Can Get It. A later collection devoted to a single composer was released during her time with Pablo Records, Ella Abraça Jobim, featuring the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim.
While recording the Songbooks and the occasional studio album, Fitzgerald toured 40 to 45 weeks per year in the United States and internationally, under the tutelage of Norman Granz. Granz helped solidify her position as one of the leading live jazz performers.
In the mid-1950s, Fitzgerald became the first African-American to perform at the Mocambo, after Marilyn Monroe had lobbied the owner for the booking. The booking was instrumental in Fitzgerald's career. The incident was turned into a play by Bonnie Greer in 2005.
There are several live albums on Verve that are highly regarded by critics. Most notably her series of recordings with Louis Armstrong were both financial and critical successes. The two most popular jazz singers in the world worked well together.
There was alsoElla at the Opera House which shows a typical JATP set from Fitzgerald. Ella in Rome and Twelve Nights In Hollywood display her vocal jazz canon. Ella in Berlin is still one of her best selling albums; it includes a Grammy-winning performance of "Mack the Knife" in which she forgets the lyrics, but improvises magnificently to compensate.
The Wandering YearsEdit
Verve Records was sold to MGM in 1963 for $3 million. In 1967 MGM failed to renew Fitzgerald's contract.
Over the next five years she flitted between Atlantic, Capitol and Reprise. At a time where Big Band was dead, and Jazz was giving way to the age of the amplified guitar gods of Rock and Roll, the labels tried to position Ella away from her jazz roots.
For Capitol she recorded Brighten the Corner, an album of hymns, Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas, an album of traditional Christmas carols, Misty Blue, a country and western-influenced album, and 30 by Ella, a series of six medleys that fulfilled her obligations for the label.
Jazz Renaissance at Pablo RecordsEdit
The surprise success of the 1972 album Jazz at Santa Monica Civic '72 led Granz to found Pablo Records, his first record label since the sale of Verve. Fitzgerald recorded some 20 albums for the label. Ella in London recorded live in 1974 with pianist Tommy Flanagan, Joe Pass on guitar, Keter Betts on bass and Bobby Durham on drums was considered by many to be some of her best work.
Her years with Pablo Records also documented the decline in her voice.
"She frequently used shorter, stabbing phrases, and her voice was harder, with a wider vibrato," one biographer wrote. Plagued by health problems, Fitzgerald made her last recording in 1991 and her last public performances in 1993.
Fitzgerald recorded three Verve studio albums with Armstrong, two albums of standards (1956's Ella and Louis and 1957's Ella and Louis Again), and a third album featured music from the Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess. Fitzgerald also recorded a number of sides with Armstrong for Decca in the early 1950s.
Fitzgerald is sometimes referred to as the quintessential swing singer, and her meetings with Count Basie are highly regarded by critics.
Fitzgerald features on one track on Basie's 1957 album One O'Clock Jump, while her 1963 album Ella and Basie! is remembered as one of her greatest recordings. With the 'New Testament' Basie Band in full swing, and arrangements written by a young Quincy Jones, this album proved a respite from the 'Songbook' recordings and constant touring that Fitzgerald was engaged in during this period.
Fitzgerald and Joe Pass recorded four albums together toward the end of Fitzgerald's career. She recorded several albums with piano accompaniment, but a guitar proved the perfect melodic foil for her.
Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington recorded two live albums, and two studio albums. Her Duke Ellington Songbook placed Ellington firmly in the canon known as the Great American Songbook, and the 1960s saw Fitzgerald and the 'Duke' meet on the Côte d'Azur for the 1966 album Ella and Duke at the Cote D'Azur, and in Sweden for The Stockholm Concert, 1966. Their 1965 album Ella at Duke's Place is also extremely well received.
The Sinatra EffectEdit
Possibly Fitzgerald's greatest unrealized collaboration (in terms of popular music) was a studio or live album with Frank Sinatra. The two appeared on the same stage only periodically over the years, in television specials in 1958 and 1959, and again on 1967's A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim, a show that also featured Antonio Carlos Jobim.
"Ella loved working with [Frank]. Sinatra gave her his dressing room on A Man and His Music and couldn’t do enough for her," said Pianist Paul Smith.
When asked, Norman Granz would cite "complex contractual reasons" for the fact that the two artists never recorded together. Fitzgerald's appearance with Sinatra and Count Basie in June 1974 for a series of concerts at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas was seen as an important incentive for Sinatra to return from his self-imposed retirement of the early 1970s.
The shows were a great success, grossing over $1,000,000 in two weeks on Broadway, in a triumvirate with the Count Basie Orchestra in September of 1975.
Ella Fitzgerald had an extraordinary vocal range. She was a mezzo-soprano who sang much lower than most classical contraltos. Ellas had a range of “2 octaves and a sixth from a low D or D flat to a high B flat and possibly higher”.
As Will Friedwald noted:
"Unlike any other singer you could name, Fitzgerald has the most amazing asset in the very sound of her voice: it's easily one of the most beautiful and sonically perfect sounds known to man. Even if she couldn't do anything with it, the instrument that Fitzgerald starts with is dulcet and pure and breathtakingly beautiful. As Henry Pleasants has observed, she has a wider range than most opera singers, and many of the latter, including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, are among her biggest fans. And the intonation that goes with the voice is, to put it conservatively, God-like. Fitzgerald simply exists in tune, and she hits every note that there is without the slightest trace of effort. Other singers tend to sound like they're trying to reach up to a note - Fitzgerald always sounds like she's already there. If anything, she's descending from her heavenly perch and swooping down to whatever pitch she wants".
Henry Pleasants, an American classical-music critic, wrote:
"She has a lovely voice, one of the warmest and most radiant in its natural range that I have heard in a lifetime of listening to singers in every category. She has an impeccable and ultimately sophisticated rhythmic sense, and flawless intonation. Her harmonic sensibility is extraordinary. She is endlessly inventive.. . it is not so much what she does, or even the way she does it, it's what she does not do. What she does not do, putting it simply as possible, is anything wrong. There is simply nothing in performance to which one would take exception.. . Everything seems to be just right. One would not want it any other way. Nor can one, for a moment imagine it any other way." 
Awards, Citations & HonorsEdit
Fitzgerald won thirteen Grammy awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement in 1967. Other major awards and honors she received during her career were the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Medal of Honor Award, National Medal of Art, first Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award, named "Ella" in her honor, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, UCLA Spring Sing. Across town at the University of Southern California, Ella received the coveted USC "Magnum Opus" Award which graces the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation's office.
In 1993, Fitzgerald established the Charitable Foundation that bears her name: The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, which continues to help the disadvantaged through monetary grants and donations of new books to at-risk children. More information can be found at the Foundation's website, ellafitzgeraldfoundation.org
Ella Fitzgerald was a quiet but ardent supporter of many charities and non-profit organizations, including the American Heart Association and the United Negro College Fund. In 1993, she established the "Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation" which continues to fund programs that perpetuate Ella's ideals.
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. Past performers at the week-long festival include: Diana Krall, Arturo Sandoval, Jean Carne, Phil Woods, Aretha Franklin, Freda Payne, Cassandra Wilson, Ethel Ennis, David Sanborn, Jane Monheit, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ramsey Lewis, Patti Austin, and Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann Hampton Callaway, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Patti Austin have all recorded albums in tribute to Fitzgerald. Callaway's album To Ella with Love (1996) features fourteen jazz standards made popular by Fitzgerald, and the album also features the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.
Bridgewater's album Dear Ella (1997) featured many musicians that were closely associated with Fitzgerald during her career, including the pianist Lou Levy, the trumpeter Benny Powell, and Fitzgerald's second husband, the double bassist Ray Brown.
Bridgewater's following album, Live at Yoshi's, was recorded live on April 25, 1998, what would have been Fitzgerald's 81st birthday. Patti Austin's album, For Ella (2002) features 11 songs most immediately associated with Fitzgerald, and a twelfth song, "Hearing Ella Sing" is Austin's tribute to Fitzgerald. The album was nominated for a Grammy.
In 2007 We All Love Ella, was released, a tribute album recorded for the 90th anniversary of Fitzgerald's birth. It featured artists such as Michael Bublé, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Queen Latifah, Ledisi, Dianne Reeves, Linda Ronstadt, and Lizz Wright, collating songs most readily associated with the "First Lady of Song".
The folk singer Odetta's album To Ella (1998) is dedicated to Fitzgerald, but features no songs associated with her. Fitzgerald's long serving accompanist Tommy Flanagan affectionately remembered Fitzgerald on his album Lady be Good...For Ella (1994).
Fitzgerald is also referred to on the 1987 song "Ella, elle l'a" by French singer France Gall and the Belgian singer Kate Ryan, the 1976 Stevie Wonder hit "Sir Duke" from his album Songs in the Key of Life, and the song "I Love Being Here With You", written by Peggy Lee and Bill Schluger. Sinatra's 1986 recording of "Mack the Knife" from his album L.A. Is My Lady (1984) includes a homage to some of the song's previous performers, including 'Lady Ella' herself. She is also honored in the song "First Lady" by Canadian artist Nikki Yanofsky.
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. The Grand Opening performers (October 11 & 12, 2008) were Roberta Flack and Queen Esther Marrow.
USPS Stamp and Yonkers StatueEdit
There is a statue of Fitzgerald in Yonkers, the city in which she grew up. It is located southeast of the main entrance to the Amtrak/Metro-North Railroad station. A beautiful bust of Ella is on the campus of Chapman College in Orange, California. On January 10, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that Fitzgerald would be honored with her own 39-cent postage stamp. The stamp was released in April 2007 as part of the Postal Service's Black Heritage series.
- ↑ Scott Yanow. "Ella Fitzgerald". allmusic.com. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/p6503. Retrieved 2007-03-16.
- ↑ Vickie Smith, Jazz Vocalist. "Dedicated To Ella". VickieSmith.com. http://www.vickiesmith.com/ella.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-16.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Nicholson, Stuart (1993). Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz. New York: C. Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0-575-40032-3.
For many years Fitzgerald's birthdate was thought to be on the same date one year later in 1918 — and is still listed as such in some sources — but research by Nicholson has established 1917 as the correct year of her birth.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Stephen Holden (1996-06-16). "Ella Fitzgerald, the Voice of Jazz, Dies at 79". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A00E4DC1E39F935A25755C0A960958260. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Bernstein, Nina. "Ward of the State;The Gap in Ella Fitzgerald's Life", The New York Times, June 23, 1996. Accessed June 29, 2010.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Frank Rich (1996-06-19). "Journal; How High the Moon". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9800E6D81439F93AA25755C0A960958260. Retrieved 2008-04-06.
- ↑ Bernstein, Nina. "Ward of the State;The Gap in Ella Fitzgerald's Life", The New York Times, June 23, 1996. Accessed May 3, 2008. "Her most recent biographer, Stuart Nicholson, has surmised that the authorities caught up with her and placed her in the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale."
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 Jim Moret (1996-06-15). "‘First Lady of Song’ passes peacefully, surrounded by family". CNN. Archived from the original on 2006-11-29. http://web.archive.org/web/20061129231320/http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/9606/15/fitzgerald.obit/index.html. Retrieved 2007-01-30.
- ↑ Benoit, Tod (2003-05-06). Where are they buried?: how did they die?. Black Dog Publishing. p. 423. ISBN 9781579122874. http://books.google.com/books?id=rPekYw-SIkEC&pg=PA423. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
- ↑ Hugh Davies (2005-12-31). "Sir Johnny up there with the Count and the Duke". London: Telegraph, UK. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/12/31/nhonours931.xml. Retrieved 2007-03-16.
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 Pleasants, H. (1974). The Great American Popular Singers. Simon and Schuster.
- ↑ "Ella Fitzgerald: A Memorial" by Will Friedwald 1996.
- ↑ "Calendar & Events: Spring Sing: Gershwin Award". UCLA. http://www.uclalumni.net/CalendarEvents/springsing/Gershwin/winners.cfm.
- ↑ "New Stamp Honors First Lady of Song". WHSV News 3,. January 9, 2007. http://www.whsv.com/news/headlines/5134776.html. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
- Nicholson, Stuart. (1996) Ella Fitzgerald. Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-40032-3
- Gourse, Leslie. (1998) The Ella Fitzgerald Companion: Seven Decades of Commentary. Music Sales Ltd. ISBN 0-02-864625-8
- Johnson, J. Wilfred. (2001) Ella Fitzgerald: A Complete Annotated Discography. McFarland & Co Inc. ISBN 0-7864-0906-1