Born in Newport News, Virginia in 1917, Ella Fitzgerald moved with her mother to New York after the death of her father. Living in Yonkers, Fitzgerald attended public school, where she sang in the glee club and received her musical education. After her early success at the Apollo, and as a popular performer at a number of other amateur venues, Fitzgerald was invited to join Chick Webb’s band. Within a short while she was the star attraction, and had made a number hits including her trademark “A-tisket, A-tasket” (1938). After Webb’s death in 1939, Fitzgerald led the band for three years.
…By the 1970s, she was performing with a trio headed by pianist Tommy Flanagan, and regularly with dozens of different symphony orchestras. Though her voice was not what it had been, Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm and charisma continued to excite crowds well into the 1980s. After a successful appearance in the United Kingdom in 1990, she retired due to ailing health. Two years later President Ronald Reagan awarded her the National Medal of Honor. Suffering continued health problems, Fitzgerald spent the last few years of her life in her Beverly Hills home. On June 15, 1996 she died at the age of seventy-eight. Of Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis said, “She was the best there ever was. Amongst all of us who sing, she was the best.” From those early days on Harlem streets to the upper stratosphere of musical fame, Ella Fitzgerald’s life was the quintessential American success story. Through fifty-eight years of performing, thirteen Grammys and more than forty million records sold, she elevated swing, bebop, and ballads to their highest potential. She was, undeniably, the First Lady of Song.
More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we will be linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).