American jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald was the “first lady” of singing, swing, bebop, and ballads. Her career spanned over sixty years, she sold millions of records, and won multiple Grammy awards. She known all over the world. Ella Fitzgerald greatly impacted the way jazz music is today through her use of scatting and her perfect voice. Ella Fitzgerald did not become the “first lady” of these things overnight. She had to go through hardships in order to get to that point. Ella Fitzgerald was born to William Fitzgerald & Temperance “Tempie” Williams Fitzgerald in Newport News, Virginia on April 25, 1917.
However, her parents separated shortly after she was born. When they separated Ella moved with her mother to Yonkers, New York, and they lived with her mother’s boyfriend Joseph DaSilva. Ella gained a half-sister in 1923 when her mother had a baby girl Frances. But in 1932, her mother died due to serious injuries from a car accident. This led to Ella moving in with her aunt. This took a big toll on Ella. She started skipping school, and ended up being sent to a reform school because of this. She eventually ended up dropping out of school. Even though she went through all of this, Ella had one dream.
That dream was to become a dancer. By 1934, Ella was kicked out of school and was forced to make it on her own. Since Ella had a passion for singing and dancing, she entered an amateur contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and she sang Hoagy Carmichael’s song, “Judy”, in addition to “The Object of my Affection. ” She instantly won over the audience with her amazing voice, and won first place with a $25 cash prize. This performance was Ella’s springboard into her music career. Had Ella not endured this less than ideal upbringing, she would not have had the opportunity to perform ultimately start her music career.
After the contest, Ella met Chick Webb who was a drummer and band leader, and Ella eventually joined his group as a singer. Because she got involved with this group, in 1938, she put out her first number one hit single, “A-Tisket, ATasket”. She was only 21 years old when she recorded this, and it was one of her more successful songs. She sold over one million copies, and was at the top of the charts for months. This was when her career really took off. Ella became famous overnight. Chick Webb died in 1939, so Ella became the band leader for the following three years. They renamed the band “Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Band”.
During the time she was the band leader, she recorded some music with Benny Goodman. Benny Goodman was an American jazz and swing musician, known as the “King of Swing”. Starting in the 1940’s, Ella began her solo career, making her a much more respected artist. In 1941, Ella married Benny Kornegay. Ella realized soon after that he had a criminal record and decided that the marriage was a mistake and she had the marriage annulled. A few years later, in 1946, Ella went on tour with Dizzy Gillespie’s band and fell in love with the bassist Ray Brown. They ended up getting married and adopted a son that they named Ray Jr.
At this time Ray Sr. was working for producer Norman Granz on the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” tour. Norman got in touch with Ella through Ray, and he told Ella that he thought she had what it took to be an international sensation, and wanted her to sign with him. This created a lifelong friendship. Ella immediately joined the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” tour. For many years Ella worked on a lot of projects. For one, she created albums with Louis Armstrong. In addition, “she recorded cover versions of songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwin’s, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers & Hart”. Grammy Museum).
She also made guest appearances on programs like “The Bing Crosby Show”, “The Frank Sinatra Show” and “The Dean Martin Show”. With all the traveling Ella was doing, it was straining Ella and Ray’s relationship. In 1952, Ella and Ray divorced because they could not make time for each other, but always remained friends. Ella was singing both swing and bebop, two different styles of jazz music. She was so popular that Ella gained a fan in Marilyn Monroe, and she helped give Ella the chance to perform in Mocambo in Los Angeles, California, which was a club that was originally only admitted white patrons.
This performance made her the first African American performer in this club. Performances used to be extremely segregated. Had it not been for this performance, music would probably not be the way it is today. Ella was also the first African American woman to perform at Copacabana, a famous nightclub in New York City. According to Charles Carson, a musicology professor at the University of Texas at Austin “She really represented an important continuum of not only blackness, but also black femininity. ” (Duncan). In 1958, she was traveling all over the world.
She went with the Duke Ellington Orchestra to gave a concert at Carnegie Hall as a part of an extended tour. She also gave concerts at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Fairmont in San Francisco, California, and the Americana in New York City. As well as touring in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Ella certainly changed the way jazz music is viewed. Many jazz musicians were discriminated against because of the color of their skin. However, Ella was very courageous. She never gave up, and she was very hardworking. This could be related to the situation she was growing up in.
She never lost hope, and it was apparent every time she performed. Ella also received her first Grammy that year at the First Annual Grammy Awards. She won best jazz performance, as well as best female vocal performance. In fact, she was the first African American to ever receive a Grammy. This shows that she had an influence on African American music. Around the 1960’s Ella was at her peak. She sang a version of “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin, and midway through the song, she forgot the lyrics. Instead, of just stopping midway through the song, she improvised and came up with new lyrics.
This is method was known as scat. Scat is “vocal improvisation with wordless syllables, combining improvised melodies, motifs and rhythmic patterns using the voice as an instrument, not unlike a trumpet or saxophone. ” (Vitro). Ella was known for this, and she really changed the jazz was performed. “Fitzgerald was known for her clarity of voice and her perfect pitch. According to many, it was perfect pitch that enabled her to successfully perform the “scat” singing—the singing of nonsense words and syllables to embellish a melody. ” (Extravagant Crowd).
Ella Fitzgerald is the most influential person when it comes to scat. Ella Fitzgerald has influenced artists like Adele whose album 25 is at the top of the charts. As well as Regina Carter who is a jazz violinist and considers Ella Fitzgerald to be her idol. During the 1970’s Ella began touring with Frank Sinatra, who is a famous jazz singer. Though, in 1971, her career had to come to a halt because of cataract surgery. Because of this she was doing less concerts, but still performed as much as she could. Within a three-year span Ella worked with 40 different symphonies including the Boston Pops.
She never let her condition stop her from doing what she loved. There was always a high demand for Ella’s albums. During the 1980’s when it was starting to become obvious that Ella’s health was worsening, she continued to sing, and her voice was still flawless as ever, even though she was getting older. It was in 1986, when Ella underwent a quintuple coronary bypass surgery. The doctors had to replace a valve in her heart. This was when they officially diagnosed her with diabetes. Everyone was saying that Ella would never sing again, but she proved them wrong.
Ella returned to the stage despite what everyone had told her, but she would not hear of it. This shows that Ella is courageous and is not afraid to take risks. This is very likely a reason that she is so successful. In 1991, Ella gave her last performance at Carnegie Hall in New York, one of the most prestigious musical halls in the world. Ella’s health issues continued to worsen. She experienced extreme circulatory issues and was forced to have both of her legs amputated. This made it difficult for her to ever perform again. On June 15, 1996, t the age of 79, Ella passed away peacefully in her home in Beverly Hills, California.
Ella may have died at an early age, but she left behind an incredible legacy. Some of her accomplishments include, being inducted into the Down Beat Magazine Hall of Fame, receiving the Kennedy Center Honors for her involvement with the arts, and being awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush. This year marks Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday, and everyone is paying tribute to her. For example, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater put on a performance called Ella and it pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.
According to Sarah Kaufman, “just as Fitzgerald abandoned intelligible lyrics, the dancers abandoned physical limits. They spun, leapt, collapsed, sprang up and slung themselves around like ink in the hand of a mad doodler. ” (Kaufman). This is supposed to resemble her use of scat. The Grammy museum will also be celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday as they will be having a new exhibition called “Ella at 100: Celebrating the Artistry of Ella Fitzgerald. ”
“The exhibit will host an archive of personal correspondence, rare recordings, stage attire and other pieces from her estate. In addition, the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington, D. C. will host “First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100”. This performance will focus on “her personal scores, sheet music and videos of her live performances from her archives at the Library of Congress. ” (Brown). Ella Fitzgerald left a lasting impression on African American culture musically. She persevered through the toughest of situations, and she never let it get in the way of her singing, and she was so successful because of the attitude that she had.
If she wanted to do something she really set her mind to it and never gave up. Ella Fitzgerald incorporated scat into her singing. No one could do it quite like her, so many people looked up to her. Ella was so successful because of the attitude that she had. Ella Fitzgerald once said, “A lot of singers think all they have to do is exercise their tonsils to get ahead. They refuse to look for new ideas and new outlets, so they fall by the wayside… I’m going to try to find out the new ideas before the others do. “