April 25: "First Lady of Song" Ella Fitzgerald was born on this date in 1917...

... she died on June 15, 1996 at 79 years-of-age.

"Lady Ella," Ella Jane Fitzgerald was an American jazz and song vocalist. With a vocal range spanning three octaves she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia. When she was young, Fitzgerald wanted to be a dancer, although she loved listening to jazz recordings by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and The Boswell Sisters, especially the lead singer Connee Boswell.

In 1932, her mother died from a heart attack. At one point worked as a lookout at a bordello and also with a Mafia-affiliated numbers runner. When the authorities caught up with her, she was first placed in an orphanage then the New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York, a state reformatory.

She made her singing debut at 17 on November 21, 1934 at the Apollo Theater. in Harlem, New York. She pulled in a weekly audience at the Apollo and won the opportunity to compete in one of the earliest of its famous "Amateur Nights." She had originally intended to go on stage and dance but, intimidated by the Edwards Sisters, a local dance duo, she decided to sing Connee Boswell's "Judy" and "The Object of My Affection. She won the $25.00 first prize.

In January 1935, Fitzgerald won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House where she met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. She began singing regularly with Webb's Orchestra through 1935 at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. Fitzgerald recorded several hit songs with them, including "Love and Kisses" and "(If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)."

But it was her 1938 version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," a song she co-wrote, that brought her wide public acclaim.

Chick Webb died on June 16, 1939, and his band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra" with Ella taking on the role of bandleader. Fitzgerald recorded nearly 150 sides during her time with the orchestra.

In 1942, Fitzgerald left the band to begin a solo career. She had several popular hits while recording with such artists as the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and the Delta Rhythm Boys on the Decca label.

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Pure Ella

With the demise of the Swing era and the decline of the great touring big bands, a major change in jazz music occurred. The advent of bebop led to new developments in Fitzgerald's vocal style, influenced by her work with Dizzy Gillespie's big band.

It was in this period that Fitzgerald started including scat singing as a major part of her performance repertoire. While singing with Gillespie, Fitzgerald said, "I just tried to do [with my voice] what I heard the horns in the band doing."

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, released in 1956, was the first of eight multi-album Songbook sets Fitzgerald would record for Verve Records between 1956 to 1964 after leaving Decca. Fitzgerald's song selections ranged from standards to rarities and represented an attempt by Fitzgerald to cross over into a non-jazz audience.

Fitzgerald had a number of famous jazz musicians and soloists as sidemen over her long career. The trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie, the guitarist Herb Ellis, and the pianists Tommy Flanagan, Oscar Peterson, Lou Levy, Paul Smith, Jimmy Rowles, and Ellis Larkins all worked with Ella mostly in live, small group settings.
Ella Fitzgerald is considered a top interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over a recording career that lasted 59 years, she was the winner of 13 Grammy Awards including one for Lifetime Achievement in 1967.

Other major awards and honors she received during her career were the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Medal of Honor Award, National Medal of Art, first Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award, named "Ella" in her honor, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement.