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Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald is an NEA Jazz Master

Dubbed "The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums.

Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the pleasure of working with Ella.)

She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common - they all loved her.

Humble but happy beginnings

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia on April 25, 1917. Her father, William, and mother, Temperance (Tempie), parted ways shortly afterward. Tempie and Ella went to Yonkers, New York, where they eventually moved in with Tempie's longtime boyfriend Joseph Da Silva. Ella's half-sister, Frances, was born in 1923, and soon she began referring to Joe as her stepfather.

To support the family, Joe dug ditches and was a part-time chauffeur, while Tempie worked at a laundry mat and did some catering. Occasionally, Ella took on small jobs to contribute money as well. Perhaps naïve to the circumstances, Ella worked as a runner for local gamblers, picking up their bets and dropping off money.

Their apartment was in a mixed neighborhood, where Ella made friends easily. She considered herself more of a tomboy, and often joined in the neighborhood games of baseball. Sports aside, she enjoyed dancing and singing with her friends, and some evenings they would take the train into Harlem and watch various acts at the Apollo Theater.

A rough patch

In 1932, Tempie died from serious injuries she received in a car accident. Ella took the loss very hard. After staying with Joe for a short time, Tempie's sister Virginia took Ella home. Shortly afterward Joe suffered a heart attack and died, and her little sister Frances joined them.

Unable to adjust to the new circumstances, Ella became increasingly unhappy and entered into a difficult period of her life. Her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. Living there was even more unbearable, as she suffered beatings at the hands of her caretakers.

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Book Review

Becoming Ella Fitzgerald

Read "Becoming Ella Fitzgerald" reviewed by Katchie Cartwright


Becoming Ella Fitzgerald Judith Tick 560 Pages ISBN: 978-0-393-24105-1 W.W. Norton & Company 2024 In his 859-page monograph The Swing Era (1989), composer and historian Gunther Schuller skipped past Ella Fitzgerald. In 2011, when Judith Tick asked him about the omission, he responded that “there wasn't room to cover two singers, and he had chosen Billie Holiday" (Becoming Ella Fitzgerald, p. 429). Tick's meticulously researched and insightful Becoming Ella Fitzgerald fills that hole ...

6
Jazz Fiction

Between The Devil And the Deep Blue Sea

Read "Between The Devil And the Deep Blue Sea" reviewed by Dan McClenaghan


When the wife invites the ladies over for Mahjong, I get out of the house. They're a great bunch, but they play the game like it's a blood sport. Fractious trash-talk melodies. Clacking, tile-smacking-the-table percussion. Wild ear-piercing laughter... So I drove down to the beach, Ella Fitzgerald singing about the devil and the deep blue sea on my sound system. I parked and hobbled with my quad cane to the beach access and sat my old butt halfway ...

3
Radio & Podcasts

New Releases Plus Birthday Celebrations for Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie & More

Read "New Releases Plus Birthday Celebrations for Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie & More" reviewed by Mary Foster Conklin


This broadcast includes new releases from the JOI (Jazz Outreach Initiative) Jazz Orchestra, Luis Russell and Grace Garland, plus birthday shoutouts to Blossom Dearie, Ma Rainey, Rebecca Martin, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. Thanks for listening and please support the artists you hear by seeing them live and online. Purchase their music so they can continue to distract, comfort, provoke and inspire. Playlist Emily Remler “Sweet Georgie Fame" from East to Wes (Concord Jazz) 00:00 Blossom ...

2
Radio & Podcasts

New Releases and Birthday Shoutouts To Ella Fitzgerald

Read "New Releases and Birthday Shoutouts To Ella Fitzgerald" reviewed by Mary Foster Conklin


This broadcast features new releases from saxophonist Berta Moreno, bassist/vocalist Kristin Korb, guitarist George Gilliam and pianist/vocalist Lauren Lee with birthday shoutouts to Ella Fitzgerald, Roxy Coss, Charles Mingus, Alan Broadbent, Lara Downes and Kendra Shank, among others. Thanks for listening and please support the artists you hear by purchasing their music during this time of lockdown.Playlist Idit Shner “Hippo's Walk" from Live at the Jazz Station (OA2) 00:00 Rosalyn McClore “Poetry Man" from The Pretty Painted Ladies ...

1
Radio & Podcasts

Free Association - Vol. 3 with John Murph

Read "Free Association - Vol. 3 with John Murph" reviewed by Ludovico Granvassu


Free Association is a series of collaborative mix-tapes curated by Mondo Jazz in association with musicians and selectors of various origins. Free Association mix-tapes develop as a conversation. The first selector sends a tune cherry-picked to suit, and ideally surprise, the second selector who then, in turn, returns the favor. An hour or so into this exchange, after unexpected turns and joyful revelations, the two look back at the results of this game of musical tennis-table and ...

5
Album Review

Various Artists: Ella 100 Live at the Apollo

Read "Ella 100 Live at the Apollo" reviewed by Jim Worsley


To be taken back in time within the scope of a period piece movie has long been a staple. Some journeys feel much more real than others, but the concept is commonplace. Venturing into the past with only the audio of a CD or record is, as they might have said back in 1934, “a whole different kettle of fish." A live audience first laid eyes and ears on this 100th birthday celebration honoring the sensational Ella Fitzgerald (born on ...

6
Radio & Podcasts

The Songbooks (1950 - 1959)

Read "The Songbooks (1950 - 1959)" reviewed by Russell Perry


Songs from what came to be known as the Great American Songbook, have been part of jazz perhaps since The Original Dixieland Jazz Band began recording Irving Berlin compositions. In the 1940s, singer Lee Wiley recorded several collections of 78s, known as “albums"--a name that stuck into the LP era, focused on the work of individual composers like George Gershwin or Cole Porter. With the advent of the Long Playing record, the idea of recording whole LPs dedicated to the ...

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5

Award / Grant

Winner Of The 7th Annual Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Vocal Competition Announced

Winner Of The 7th Annual Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Vocal Competition Announced

Source: Frank Vardaros

The Blues Alley Jazz Society is pleased to announce the winner of the 7th annual Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Vocal Competition—Dani Assis (New Canaan, CT). 2nd Place Winner is Aviana Gedler (West Des Moines, IA), and 3rd Place Winners are Angelina Kolobukhova (Minsk, Belarus), Arvin Ma (Shanghai, China), and Tina Hashemi (Charlottesville, VA). The competition included some of the most musically versatile student vocalists from around the globe and has attracted submissions from continents and countries as expansive as the “First ...

Birthday

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Source: Michael Ricci

All About Jazz is celebrating Ella Fitzgerald's birthday today!

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, ...

Video / DVD

Video: Ella Fitzgerald at the BBC, 1965

Video: Ella Fitzgerald at the BBC, 1965

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

On May 8, 1965, the BBC broadcast a taped TV concert that Ella Fitzgerald had recorded earlier that year in front of a studio audience. She was joined on songs by her trio—Tommy Flanagan on piano, Keter Betts on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. There were no musician solos, other than during the intro and outro. It's all Ella. She also sang songs backed by the Johnnie Spence Orchestra, a roaring British big band. The arrangements? They were by ...

Video / DVD

Backgrounder: 'Ella Swings Lightly'

Backgrounder: 'Ella Swings Lightly'

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

One of my favorite Ella Fitzgerald albums is Ella Swings Lightly. Recorded for Verve in November 1958, the album was arranged by Marty Paich and features his Dek-tette backing Ella on a bright batch of songs outside the realm of her tiresome American songbook fare. The all-star Hollywood 10 included Don Fagerquist and Al Porcino (tp), Bob Enevoldsen (vtb, ts), Vincent DeRosa (frh), Bud Shank (as), Bill Holman (ts), Med Flory (bar), Lou Levy (p), Joe Mondragon (b) and Mel ...

Birthday

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Source: Michael Ricci

All About Jazz is celebrating Ella Fitzgerald's birthday today!

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, ...

3

Music Industry

The MPS Records legacy resumes with vinyl releases of Ella Fitzgerald’s 'Sunshine Of Your Love' and Freddie Hubbard’s'The Hub of Hubbard'

The MPS Records legacy resumes with vinyl releases of Ella Fitzgerald’s 'Sunshine Of Your Love' and Freddie Hubbard’s'The Hub of Hubbard'

Source: Great Scott P.R.oductions

Jazz history was forged in the rustic Black Forest of Germany in 1968 when Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer launched MPS Records and recorded some of the genre’s seminal artists. Legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, The Count Basie Orchestra and George Duke released albums on the prestigious label known for its high-level recording technique and distinctive aesthetic. Much of MPS’s catalog will be reissued in the United States over the coming months thanks to a ...

Birthday

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Source: Michael Ricci

All About Jazz is celebrating Ella Fitzgerald's birthday today!

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, ...

Video / DVD

Ella Fitzgerald in Holland, 1974

Ella Fitzgerald in Holland, 1974

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers


Birthday

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Source: Michael Ricci

All About Jazz is celebrating Ella Fitzgerald's birthday today!

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington... ...

Birthday

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Jazz Musician of the Day: Ella Fitzgerald

Source: Michael Ricci

All About Jazz is celebrating Ella Fitzgerald's birthday today!

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington... ...

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