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Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) was an American jazz vocalist. A contemporary of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and other big names, Fitzgerald was one of the defining voices in the American jazz canon. She had a prolific career, with some of her most notable recordings made during a partnership with jazz impresario Norman Granz. She is remembered for her poised delivery and diction alongside her careful phrasing and intonation.



Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, VIrginia to William and Temperance Fitzgerald. After her parents separated, she moved with her mother up to New York where they lived with her mother's longtime boyfriend Joseph Da Silva. Her mother died of a heart attack when Ella was just 15 years old, deeply affecting Fitzgerald and causing her to run away from home. She bounced between an orphanage, a reform school, and homelessness.


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Fitzgerald had been listening to Louis Armstrong and Connee Boswell since her youth, and in 1934, she made her debut appearance at The Apollo in Harlem. She won $25 at one of the Apollo's Amateur Nights singing Boswell's "Judy" and "The Object of My Affection." She soon began attracting a regular audience.


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In 1935, after winning a competition, she began playing Chick Webb and was eventually performing with his band regularly at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. She recorded the songs "Love and Kisses" and , "A-Tisket, A-Tasket", the latter of which was the first recording to bring her wide popularity. In 1939, Chick Webb died and Fitzgerald became the bandleader, renamed Ella and her Famous Orchestra. They recorded more than a hundred pop songs before they broke up in 1942.



Throughout the early and mid 1940s, she recorded under Decca Records. This is where, influenced by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, she began to experiment with scatting as Swing was on its way out and Bebop was becoming ever more popular. In 1942, she recorded the scat album Flying Home and it received wide critical acclaim. She started appearing regularly at Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) under Norman Granz.


Ella with Marilyn Monroe. Image source


Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington & Benny Goodman; by Herman Leonard; NYC, 1948. Image source.


Ella with Louis Armstrong. Image source

She continued to perform at JATP until 1955, when she left Decca with Granz to form Verve Records. It was then that she recorded Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, which she described as "a turning point" in her life. While with Verve, she recorded the albums Ella at the Opera House (1958), Ella in Berlin (1960), Ella in Rome (1988), and Twelve Nights In Hollywood (2009).



Fitzgerald recorded under various record labels after Verve was bought by MGM in 1963, including two Christmas albums, an album of hymns, and an album of medleys.

She returned to work with Granz when he founded his Pablo label in 1973. She performed with many orchestra and toured with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie in 1974. The tour grossed over a million dollars.


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Fitzgerald also appeared on television and in films, including Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942), The Frank Sinatra Show, The Andy Williams Show, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, and The Ed Sullivan Show.

She made her last recording in 1991, and her last appearance in 1963. She received 13 Grammy awards throughout her life and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1967.



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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Friday, 25 April 2014
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