Ella Fitzgerald: A Night at the Apollo

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia on April 25, 1917 to William & Temperance (Tempie) Fitzgerald just as jazz was beginning to develop into a distinct art form—an evolution of the blues, spirituals, field hollers, African rhythms, folk songs, marches, and ragtime.

The family moved north during the Great Migration, finding shelter at 27 Clinton Street in Yonkers, New York. In the summer of 1925, they relocated to a large apartment building at 72 School Street in a neighborhood of largely Italians and Blacks, with smaller number of Irish, Greek and other ethnic groups.

At 17-years-old, she went to amateur night in Harlem at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on November 21, 1934. Following the last act of the main show, which featured the Edwards Sisters, it came time for her to dance, the first amateur onstage.

"No way I'm going out there to try and dance," she's quoted to have said. Instead, she sang a song by Connee Boswell, titled "Judy." The crowd cheered, and she began another song, "The Object of My Affection." Fitzgerald won $25.

In March 1935, she received her big break when drummer, Chick Webb, was looking for a woman to sing with his band. He hired her to travel with the band at $12.50 a week.

She made her first recording on June 12, 1935 with Webb, called "Love and Kisses." By 1937, she beat out Billie Holiday in the polls, and was named number one female vocalist. In 1938, she recorded "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."

After Webb's death in 1939 from complications related to spinal tuberculosis, the band became known as Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra. They parted ways at the end of July 1942.

By that time, she'd made 150 records. Soon, she began recording scat songs—vocal improvisation using words, syllables and parts of other songs—becaming one of the best scat singers of her time.

Throughout the 1950s, Fitzgerald recorded a series of songbooks, featuring music from American composers such as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Duke Ellington. By 1991, she’d performed at Carnegie Hall 26 times.

Ella Fitzgerald died on June 15, 1996 at 79 years old. She was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century, mastered scat singing, had a love of cookbooks, won 13 Grammy Awards, sold over 40 million albums, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967. Her audiences were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities.

Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong.

Like this post? Stop by and read Josephine Baker: The “Black Venus” from Boxcar Town.” Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, MO, Josephine Baker joined the cast of Shuffle Along in 1922, which became the first successful African American musical. She took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with 250,000 other civil rights supporters in 1963. The following year, the U.S, Congress would pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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