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Ella Fitzgerald



Born April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia. (Though many biographical sources give her birth date as 1918, her birth certificate and school records show her to have been born a year earlier.) Often referred to as the “first lady of song,” Fitzgerald enjoyed a career that stretched over six decades. With her lucid intonation and a range of three octaves, she became the preeminent jazz singer of her generation, recording over 2,000 songs, selling over 40 million albums, and winning 13 Grammy Awards, including one in 1967 for Lifetime Achievement.

As a young girl growing up in Yonkers, just outside New York City, Fitzgerald loved music and dreamed of being a dancer. She and a friend, Charles Gulliver, performed a dance routine at the local clubs. Fitzgerald also had an early interest in singing, and was greatly influenced by Connee Boswell, the lead singer of a jazz-influenced combo called the Boswell Sisters.

In 1932, Fitzgerald’s mother died suddenly, and she went to live with an aunt in Harlem. Fitzgerald was “discovered” two years later, in an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where she won first prize for her rendition of a Boswell song, “The Object of My Affection.” She performed at the Harlem Opera House in 1935 before landing a job as the featured vocalist in one of the era’s top “big bands.” She made her first recording, “Love and Kisses,” later that year with the band’s leader, Chick Webb, on his record label, Decca. A swing version of the classic nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” that Fitzgerald co-wrote with Webb and released in 1938, became her first hit recording and made her a national star.

When Webb, who had been her legal guardian, mentor, and close friend, died in 1939, Fitzgerald served as the leader of his band until it broke up in 1942. She spent the war years touring with various road shows and performing as a soloist at jazz and night clubs around the country, and made a number of recordings with Decca, including such popular albums as Lullabies of Birdland and Sweet and Hot. She began to work with an improvisational style of singing called “scat,” or “bop,” singing, based on the complex, spontaneous instrumental style of Dizzy Gillespie. In 1945, Fitzgerald recorded a scat version of “Flying Home,” which became one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the decade


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