Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 - June 15, 1996), also known as Lady Ella, was one of the most important jazz singers, and the winner of thirteen Grammy Awards. Gifted with a three-octave vocal range, she is noted for her purity of tone and "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
She was born in Newport News, Virginia and raised in Yonkers, New York. She was left on her own as an orphan at age 14.
Her singing debut was at age 16 in 1934 at the Harlem Apollo Theatre, New York, in one of the earliest of its famous "Amateur Nights", which she won, adding fame to both the Apollo and herself. She was noticed by Bardu Ali of Chick Webb's band, who persuaded Webb to hire her. She started singing with Webb's Orchestra in 1935, in Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. She recorded several hit songs with them, including "(If You Can't Sing It), You'll Have to Swing It", but it was her version of the nursery rhyme, "A Tisket A Tasket" that launched her to stardom.
When Chick Webb died in 1939, the band continued touring under the new name, "Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra."
She began her solo career in 1941. Started as a swing singer, she encompassed bebop, scat, and performed blues, bossa nova, samba, gospel, calypso, and Christmas songs. Ella's later concerts were often enriched by some hilarious imitations of other singers: in particular, she was able to render quite perfectly Marilyn Monroe's voice and typical gestures, as well as Louis Armstrong's.
Among her best known recordings was a series produced by Norman Granz of the songbooks of the great American popular composers, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin (with Nelson Riddle's orchestra), Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and Duke Ellington. With Ellington's band, Lady Ella (as she was now called by other singers) toured Europe and North America, classically opening their shows with the famous Ellington's hit "Take the 'A' train", of which she was one of the few to sing - in her unique way - the little known lyrics.
She performed concerts with the most important groups and soloists. Her role effectively was the "instrumentalist of voice". Among the many partners and/or band leaders, like Oscar Peterson, Count Basie ("On the Sunny Side of the Street"), Joe Pass ("Speak love"), Dizzy Gillespie, the Tommy Flanagan Trio, she also sang together with the "other voice" of jazz, Billie Holiday (1957).
Porgy and Bess is the most notable of her many recordings with jazz legend Louis Armstrong, but the couple also recorded the very popular "Ella and Louis" which was so successful that Granz's Verve records asked them for the equally successful "Ella and Louis again".
Ella Fitzgerald also appeared alongside Peggy Lee as an actress and singer in Jack Webb's jazz film Pete Kelly's Blues.
She married twice. Her second husband was the famous bass player Ray Brown. Together they adopted a child, Ray Brown, Jr.
Already blinded because suffering from diabetes, she lost her legs in 1993, and a little later she died in Beverly Hills, California,, after having made some sad last TV appearances. She is interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.
"I didn't realise our songs were so good until Ella sang them." - Ira Gershwin
"She had a vocal range so wide you needed an elevator to go from the top to the bottom. There's nobody to take her place." - David Brinkley
"Her artistry brings to mind the words of the maestro, Mr. Toscanini, who said concerning singers, 'Either you're a good musician or you're not.' In terms of musicianship, Ella Fitzgerald was beyond category." - Duke Ellington
"She made the mark for all female singers, especially black female singers, in our industry." - Dionne Warwick
"Her recordings will live forever... she'll sound as modern 200 years from now." - Tony Bennett
"Play an Ella ballad with a cat in the room, and the animal will invariably go up to the speaker, lie down and purr." - Geoffrey Fidelman (author of the Ella Fitzgerald biography, First Lady of Song)