Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, New York City, c. 1947.
Courtesy of William P. Gottlieb.
Born April 25, 1917, in Newport News, VA
Died June 15, 1996, in Beverly Hills, CA
“If the musicians like what I do,” Ella Fitzgerald once said, “then I feel I’m really singing.” She was really singing all her life.
Discovered at sixteen after winning an amateur night contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, she first won fame in the late 1930s, performing ebullient novelty tunes and romantic ballads with the hard-swinging Chick Webb Orchestra. During the 1940s, she recorded with every kind of backup group and established herself as a master of scat singing, incorporating the fresh harmonies and rhythms of bebop into wordless acrobatic performances that astonished audiences and musicians alike. Then, in the 1950s, she recorded definitive versions of standards by America’s greatest songwriters, from Cole Porter to Duke Ellington.
Through it all, she never lost the girlish joy evident on her earliest records, never seemed to sing out of tune, and never failed to swing. Musicians were awed by her musicianship. For her, “music is everything,” her sometime accompanist Jimmy Rowles said. “When she walks down the street, she trails notes.”
Learn More: www.ellafitzgerald.com
Listen to more music at NPR: www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/fitzgerald_e.html