Ella Fitzgerald, famed jazz singer known for her “skat” style of singing, was born in Newport News, VA, on this date in 1918.
Ella Fitzgerald was born in 1917 and raised in Yonkers, a New York suburb. She got into singing by accident. At the age of 15, she entered an amateur night talent contest at the Apollo Theater with a dancing routine. Because of the reputation of the Apollo crowd for being hard on performers, she developed stage fright and sang, instead. She won the contest.
Shortly thereafter, Chick Webb sent his vocalist out to find a pretty lady singer to help push his orchestra to the popular heights that Webb desired. He brought back Fitzgerald to Webb. Webb initially refused to let her sing, thinking that she lacked the looks he was seeking. The vocalist threatened to quit if she wasn’t given a chance. She was an instant hit. The Chick Webb Orchestra took off and turned out hit after hit. The song A-Tisket, A-Tasket remained at #1 for 17 weeks. Her voice had not fully matured, but she was blessed with an uncanny sense of rhythm and swing, as well as the ability to scat sing unlike any other woman. Fitzgerald was voted top female vocalist over Billie Holiday by both of the top jazz magazines.
When Webb died the following year, she took over the orchestra. She continued recording in the Forties, but in the Fifties, she took off. At this point in her career, her voice had reached full maturity and she had a creamy richness in her voice. Though she lacked the emotional drama of Billie Holiday, she had mastered the ballad. She signed with Verve records and Verve impresario Norman Granz set her up with her classic songbook series, in which she recorded separate records, each dedicated to a different composer, such as Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Duke Ellington. She also recorded with Louis Armstrong.
From the mid-sixties on, her voice declined somewhat, but she continued to record and toured until poor health and she stopped recording in 1989. She died in 1996.
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