his is the first in a series of jazz legend highlights! Today we’re focusing on one of the most famous female jazz musicians: Ella Fitzgerald, the “First Lady of Song.” She excelled as both a jazz vocalist and a scat singer, among many other achievements.
Ella Jane Fitzgerald was a natural-born talent. She arrived April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. Her mother Temperance, also known as Tempie, separated from her father William when Ella was young. They eventually moved to NY to live with Tempie’s long-term boyfriend Joseph Da Silva. There, Ella worked odd jobs to help out the family and spent her days playing basketball and dancing. For fun, she often took the subway out to Harlem to attend the Apollo Theater.
Life was not the easiest for Ella growing up, but it was to get even harder. Ella’s mother died in 1932, after which Ella was taken in by her sister. Ella’s grades suffered, and she found herself in trouble with the police at one point.
The Beginning of Ella’s Career
Ella Fitzgerald’s big break came when she participated in an Amateur Night at the Apollo one day in 1934. She entered with the intent to dance — it was a favorite hobby of hers, after all. However, as fate would have it, the act right before her consisted of extremely talented dancers, and she felt she couldn’t follow that act with a dance of her own. So she made a split second decision to sing instead, and it turned out to be a pivotal moment in Ella’s life.
The audience loved Ella, and Ella realized she loved singing for them. She took first place in the competition and then began performing at the Apollo, and soon she was discovered. Not long after, in 1935, she recorded her first song “Love and Kisses.” Arguably her first big hit, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” was recorded in 1938. She went on to perform on international stages and earned 14 Grammys for her achievements.
Ella Fitzgerald Songs to Check Out
Want to hear Ella Fitgerald’s iconic voice for yourself? Check out one of her songs!
The Lady Is a Tramp (with Frank Sinatra)