Friday, March 25, 2011

Women's History Month: Ella Fitzgerald, First Lady of Song

By J9 of J9's MusicLife

To celebrate Women's History month, throughout March check out a series of features on women who have impacted history as it relates to music.

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917-1996) was born in Newport News, Virginia and raised in New York City.  She had a tough upbringing from losing her mom at an early age, being abused by family members and caretakers to living on the streets.  Ella stated those experiences helped her with the emotion in her performances. 

At the age of 17, Ella's name was picked in a weekly drawing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York where competed in one of the first Amateur Nights.  Originally planning to dance, she choose to sing because she was intimidated by the previous act.  Her performance of Judy by her favorite singer Connee Boswell gave her a standing ovation the first prize of $25.00.

In 1935, she won the chance to perform with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. It was there Ella met bandleader Chick Webb who gave her the opportunity to sing with his band.  In the band, she recorded many hits like Love and Kisses and (If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It.  However, her 1938 version of the nursery rhyme, A-Tisket, A-Tasket, which she co-wrote made her famous.  Sidenote:  I remember singing this song in my grade school chorus.

In 1942, Ella left the band to start her solo career and this is when she began to incorporate scat singing in her performances.  She scatted to emulate the sounds of the horns in the band.  Her 1945 song Flying Home was described by the New York Times as "one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the decade....Where other singers, most notably Louis Armstrong, had tried similar improvisation, no one before Miss Fitzgerald employed the technique with such dazzling inventiveness."  Ella's 1947 recording of Oh, Lady be Good! made her one of the leading jazz vocalists.

To read more, click here.

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