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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 when 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.

Segregated under Jim Crow laws, at the time, African Americans went to separate schools, had separate drinking fountains and use separate entrances to public buildings.

The family heading north during the Great Migration, finding shelter at 27 Clinton Street in Yonkers, New York.

In the summer of 1925, they moved to a large apartment building at 72 School Street, in a neighborhood or largely Italians and black, with smaller number of Irish, Greek and other ethnic groups.

In the late 1920s, Harlem was experiencing the Harlem Renaissance, a period growing out of the black migration when African American artists, writers and musicians were flourishing.

At 17-years-old, went to amateur night in Harlem at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York on November 21, 1934 during the Great Depression. 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." She won $25.

In March 1935, she got 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 for $12.50 a week.

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

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

By 1942, she'd made 150 records. Soon, she began recording scat songs; using words, syllables and parts of other songs, she became one of the best scat singers of her time.

Throughout the 1950s, she recorded a series of songbooks, singing music from famous 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.

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