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Famous Like Me > Singer > F > Ella Fitzgerald

Profile of Ella Fitzgerald on Famous Like Me

Name: Ella Fitzgerald  
Also Know As: Ella
Date of Birth: 15th June 1917
Place of Birth: Newport News, Virginia, USA
Profession: Singer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996), also known as Lady Ella, was one of the most important jazz singers of the 20th Century, the winner of thirteen Grammy Awards, and the National Medal of Art presented by President Reagan. Gifted with a three-octave vocal range, she was noted for her purity of tone, near faultless phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

A young Ella Fitzgerald

She was born in Newport News, Virginia, USA in April 1917, and raised in Yonkers, New York. She was left on her own as an orphan at age 14.


Ella made her singing debut at age 16 in 1934 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, in one of the earliest of its famous "Amateur Nights". She won the competition that night, adding fame to both the Apollo and herself. Ella was noticed by Bardu Ali of Chick Webb's band, who persuaded Webb to hire her. She began singing with Webb's Orchestra in 1935, at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. Ella 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 its new name, "Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra."

Ella Fitzgerald photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1940

She began her solo career in 1941. Beginning as a swing singer, Ella also encompassed bebop, scat, and performed blues, bossa nova, samba, gospel, calypso, and Christmas songs. Her 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.

In 1955, after Ella left the Decca label, her manager, Norman Granz, created a jazz record company, Verve, around her. Ella's best known, and most highly regarded, recordings are a series produced by Granz of the songbooks of the great American popular composers, Harold Arlen (arranged by Billy May), George Gershwin (1959), (with Nelson Riddle's orchestra), Irving Berlin (1958) , Cole Porter (1956) (the 1972 album 'Dream Dancing' also exclusively featured songs by Porter) , Jerome Kern (1963) , Johnny Mercer (1964) (the only songbook devoted solely to a lyricist), and Duke Ellington (1957). The Kern and Mercer songbooks were also scored by Riddle. A later collection devoted to a single composer occurred during the Pablo years, Ella Abraça Jobim, featuring the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim. 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 hit "Take the 'A' Train"; she was one of the few to sing - in her unique way - the little known lyrics of this piece.

Ella performed concerts with the most important groups and soloists. Her role effectively was the "instrumentalist of voice". Aside of her many instrumental partners and/or band leaders, such as Oscar Peterson, Count Basie ("On the Sunny Side of the Street"), Joe Pass ("Speak Love"), Dizzy Gillespie, and with Tommy Flanagan; 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 they 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 also appeared in the films Ride 'Em Cowboy, St. Louis Blues, and Let No Man Write My Epitaph.

She married twice. In 1941 she married Benny Kornegay, but the marriage was later annulled. Her second husband was the famous bass player Ray Brown. Together they adopted a child, Ray Brown, Jr.

Already blinded because she suffered from diabetes, she lost her legs in 1993, and in 1996 she died in Beverly Hills, California, after having made some sad last TV appearances, at the age of 79. She is interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

Cultural References

The female jazz singers Dee Dee Bridgewater, Patti Austin, and Ann Hampton Callaway have all recorded albums in tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.

Bridgewater's 1997 album, 'Dear Ella' featured many musicians that were closely associated with Ella during her career, including the pianist Lou Levy, the trumpeter Benny Powell, and Ella's second husband, the bassist Ray Brown. Bridgewater's next album, 'Live at Yoshi's' was recorded on April 25th 1998, the 81st anniversary of Ella's birth.

Patti Austin's 2002 album, 'For Ella' features 11 songs most immediatly associated with Ella, and a 12th song, 'Hearing Ella Sing' is Austin's tribute to Fitzgerald. The album was nomiated for a Grammy.

Ann Hampton Callaway's 1996 album 'To Ella with Love' features 14 jazz standards made popular by Ella, and the album also features the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

The folk singer Odetta's 1998 album 'To Ella' is dedicated to Ella, but features no songs associated with her, and Ella's long serving accompianist Tommy Flanagan affectionately remembered Ella on his 1994 album 'Lady be Good...For Ella'.

Ella Fitzgerald is also referred to on the 1980' s hit "Ella , elle l' a" by French singer France Gall, and the 1976 Stevie Wonder hit, Sir Duke from his album 'Songs_in_the_Key_of_Life'.

In the American Sitcom, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Sally Solomon orders a pizza with extra 'Mozzarella Fitzgerald', and in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will's grandmother is mistaken for Ella Fitzgerald by an over-eager photographer.


note: Fitzgerald began recording albums on the Decca Records label after years of recording singles.


  • 1950 Ella Sings Gershwin
  • 1954 Songs in a Mellow Mood
  • 1955 Songs from "Pete Kelly's Blues"

Verve Albums

Ella also recorded singles throughout her Verve years.

  • 1956 Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
  • 1956 Ella and Louis
  • 1956 Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook
  • 1957 Ella and Louis Again
  • 1957 Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook
  • 1957 Ella at the Opera House
  • 1957 Like Someone in Love
  • 1957 Porgy and Bess
  • 1958 Ella and Billie at Newport
  • 1958 Ella Swings Lightly
  • 1958 Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook
  • 1958 Ella in Rome: The Birthday Concert
  • 1959 Get Happy!
  • 1959 Sings Sweet Songs for Swingers
  • 1959 Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook
  • 1960 Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife
  • 1960 Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
  • 1960 Hello, Love
  • 1960 Sings Songs from Let No Man Write My Epitaph
  • 1960 Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook
  • 1961 Ella in Hollywood
  • 1961 Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!
  • 1961 Ella Returns to Berlin
  • 1962 Rhythm Is My Business
  • 1962 Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson
  • 1962 Ella Swings Gently with Nelson
  • 1963 Ella Sings Broadway
  • 1963 Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook
  • 1963 Ella and Basie!
  • 1963 These Are the Blues
  • 1964 Hello, Dolly!
  • 1964 Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook
  • 1965 Ella at Duke's Place
  • 1965 Ella in Hamburg
  • 1966 Whisper Not
  • 1966 Ella and Duke at the Cote D'Azur
  • 1969 Watch What Happens

Capitol Records Albums

  • 1967 Brighten the Corner
  • 1967 Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas
  • 1968 30 by Ella
  • 1968 Misty Blue

Reprise Albums

  • 1969 Ella (album)
  • 1970 Things Ain't What They Used to Be

Atlantic Albums

  • 1972 Ella Loves Cole (Released on the Pablo label as Dream Dancing)

Columbia Albums

  • 1973 Newport Jazz Festival: Live at Carnegie Hall

Pablo Albums

  • 1970 Ella in Budapest, Hungary
  • 1971 Ella A Nice
  • 1972 Jazz at Santa Monica Civic '72
  • 1973 Take Love Easy
  • 1974 Ella Fitzgerald Jams
  • 1974 Ella in London
  • 1975 Ella and Oscar
  • 1975 Montreux '75
  • 1976 Fitzgerald and Pass... Again
  • 1977 Montreux '77
  • 1978 Lady Time
  • 1978 Dream Dancing
  • 1979 Digital III at Montreux
  • 1979 A Classy Pair
  • 1979 A Perfect Match This Live Performance from the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival is also available on the DVD Ella and Basie - the Perfect Match, '79.
  • 1981 Ella Abraça Jobim
  • 1982 The Best Is Yet to Come
  • 1983 Speak Love
  • 1983 Nice Work If You Can Get It
  • 1986 Easy Living (album)
  • 1989 All That Jazz (album)


  • Download sample of "How High the Moon"
  • Download sample of "April in Paris" by Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong


  • Honoury membership of Alpha Kappa Alpha (1960)
  • American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers highest honor (1965)
  • 13 Grammy awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement (1967)
  • Bing Crosby Lifetime Achievement Award (1967)
  • Honorary chairmanship of the Martin Luther King Foundation (1967)
  • Award of Distinction from the National Association of Sickle Cell Diseases (1976)
  • Women at Work organization's Bicentennial Woman (1976)
  • Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Medal of Honor Award (1979)
  • Will Rogers award from the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and Civic Association (1980)
  • Lord_&_Taylor Rose award for outstanding contribution to music (1980)
  • Doctor of Human Letters from Talladega College of Alabama (1980)
  • Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year from Harvard (1982)
  • Peabody Award for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America (1983)
  • National Medal of Art awarded by President Ronald Reagan (1987)
  • UCLA Medal for Musical Achievements (1987)
  • NAACP Image Award (1988)
  • The first Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award, named "Ella" in her honor (1989)
  • Order of Arts and Letters, France (1990)
  • National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Pied Piper Award
  • George and Ira Gershwin Award for Outstanding Achievement
  • Honorary doctorates from the Universities of Yale, University of Dartmouth, University of Maryland, Howard University and Princeton


  • "I call her the High Priestess of Song." - Mel Torme
  • "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)

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Ella Fitzgerald