Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald

The Queen of Jazz was born in Newport News, Virginia April 25, 1917 ( a jazz festival began there in 1997 in her honor) and later moved to live in Yonkers, NY. She loved to dance and perform for her friends on the way to school, but she always remained a shy person.

After a rocky start in life, including a spell in the reformatory, Ella Fitzgerald began to sing. She modeled herself on Connee Boswell of the Boswell sisters. She first performed on amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem when she was 17 years of age. She had intended to dance but the competition was hot for dancers, so she sang Connee Boswell numbers instead and won the first prize.

A year later, she met the diminutive drummer Chick Webb and started singing with his band at the Savoy Ballroom, finally taking over his band when he died in 1939. Her first big hit was the nursery rhyme A-tisket, a-tasket, which she co-wrote. She made many novelty records with the band, Ella and her Famous Orchestra.

Throughout her life, the tonal quality of her voice, her phrasing and later her ability to mimic the horn section in scat singing made her the unique jazz singer.

In the post war period, Ella began her solo career as big bands became an impossible economic equation and bebop took off. She began scat singing to great success with Dizzy Gillespie╩╝s band. In 1955, her manager Norman Grantz started Verve records as a vehicle for Ella to record the Great American Song Book starting with Cole Porter. This took her away from singing bop which she saw as having no future as clubs closed and venues became rare. In that same year, Ella opened at the Mocambo in Hollywood, one of the first black singers to perform there, promoted by the gracious intervention of Marilyn Monroe. Her recordings of the songbook are perhaps her biggest achievement, bringing the greatest music to the greatest number of Americans across the cultural divides which existed at the time. She toured the world continuously, worked in TV and movies.

She worked and recorded with all the great jazzmen, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and the Inkspots.

She suffered from diabetes and tragically had both her legs amputated before her passing June 15,1996 at her Beverley Hills mansion.

Ella Fitzgerald won 13 Grammy Awards, including the lifetime award. She gained an honorary doctorate in music from Harvard and the Presidential Medal of Freedom among many awards from around the world.