Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996), also known as Lady Ella, was one of the most important jazz singers, and the winner of thirteen Grammy Awards. Gifted with a three-octave vocal range, she is noted for her purity of tone and "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
She was born in Newport News, Virginia, USA 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."
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 (with Nelson Riddle's orchestra), Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer (the only songbook devoted solely to a lyricist), and Duke Ellington. (The Kern and Mercer songbooks were also scored by Riddle. A later collection devoted to one composer occurred during the Pablo years, Ella Abraca 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 the Tommy Flanagan Trio, 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. She is interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.