Ella Fitzgerald...Great Lady, Grand Duchess of Jazz
Essential Jazz Feature
Recipient of Los Angeles Times Award
"Ella Fitzgerald...is a singer's singer. Her control is sure, her notes are clear, her pitch is precise...Her rhythm is impeccable. And she swings. She can improvise and her final chorus or so may give impressions of a gleeful abandon. Ella Fitzgerald is the public's singer. She packs them in at the record shops, auditoriums and night clubs...Hers is the stuff of joy, a joy that is profound and ever replenished--perhaps from the self-discovery that, for all her equipment, she is absolutely incapable of holding anything back."
Martin Williams, Jazz Heritage
Ella Fitzgerald was fondly called the First Lady of Song and the First Lady of Swing by her fans. Ella was more...she was the reigning grand duchess...and the greatest jazz diva.
Ella Jean Fitzgerald was born April 25, 1918 in Newport News, Virginia. Her parents passed when she was very young. Ella's first love was dance. At the age of 16, she entered a talent contest at the Harlem Opera, which was as hard on amateur contestants as the noted Apollo Theater has always been. When Ella went on stage she was so nervous she couldn't dance. So, not wanting the audience to chase her off stage, she started singing. The audience loved it and awarded her a $25 prize. From then on Ella concentrated on pursuing a singing career.
Ella was a gifted, one-of-a-kind, once in a life time unique talent. She made her debut with drummer Chick Webb who, along with his wife Sally, became her legal guardians. Ella's first recording in 1935 was "Love and Kisses." She quickly became a favorite with jazz fans who loved her seemingly effortless perfect pitch, control and harmony. In 1937 Ella won the Down Beat magazine poll as the Best Female Vocalist of the year.
At the age of 20, Ella's groovy, swinging version of the nursery rhyme "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," catapulted her into the national spotlight. In 1939, when Chick Webb passed, Ella became leader of the band which was known as Ella Fitzgerald and Her Orchestra. During the two years she led the band, she was received enthusiastically when she toured the country. And, her appointment as bandleader was a testament to her stature as a musical talent, to her musical and leadership abilities, and to the respect her fellow musicians had for her.
Ella, a jazz vocalist, composer, arranger and musician of the highest caliber, was always exploring, seeking to expand her creative horizon. So, it was not surprising that Ella was immediately attracted to bebop, and joined Dizzy Gillespie's band. Dizzy was a bebop pioneer of the finest order. With him Ella developed scat, a singing method--originally created by Louis Armstrong--a vocal equivalent of instrumentation, of using her voice like a trumpet and saxophone.
In 1947 Ella used her vocal virtuosity to record "How High the Moon" and "Lady Be Good," two hit songs that established her as scat master par excellence. Ella became a global star in "Jazz At the Philharmonic," which toured the U.S. and the world, including Europe and Japan. Her recordings include a series of such popular works as The Cole Porter Song Book and albums dedicated to the works of Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arden, Berlin, Johnny Mercer, and Rogers and Hart.
Ella Fitzgerald's musical accomplishments were phenomenal and her career which spanned over sixty years was singularly monumental...and her character was truly exemplary and inspirational. Ella's achievements and her work continued well beyond her 75th birthday -- a time when she was still in great demand as a performer.
The following are highlights of the great Lady's life and work...a Lady who many came to think of and call...The First Lady of Swing, The First Lady of Song. Ella will be greatly missed by many jazz fans all over the globe. And perhaps the following words best describe how many felt about Ella Jean Fitzgerald..."we loved you madly...Ella."