skip navigation
Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Recent DVDs

 
 

Ella Fitzgerald - NOT AVAILABLE

Find what you're looking for faster. Use the search field below to shop for titles.

SEARCH TCM.COM/SHOP

Also Known As: Ella Jane Fitzgeraldn Died: June 15, 1996
Born: April 25, 1917 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Newport News, Virginia, USA Profession: singer, songwriter, bandleader, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Hailed as the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald virtually redefined the art of jazz singing during a distinguished sixty-year recording career in which she undeniably mastered the Great American Songbook. Her wondrously pure tones, crystal clear diction and improvisational ability first caught the wider public's attention in the mid-1930s when she fronted and eventually took over Chick Webb's orchestra. But it was as a solo artist where Fitzgerald established herself as a vocal legend, embracing the advent of bebop by incorporating the scat style into her repertoire, reinventing a whole host of Songbooks from the likes of Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer and releasing some of the greatest live albums of all time. By the time of her retirement in 1994, she'd sold 40 million records, won 13 Grammy Awards and forever changed the face of jazz.Born in Newport News, VA in 1917, Fitzgerald experienced a difficult upbringing in which she witnessed her parents' divorce, lost her mother and suffered physical abuse at the hands of her stepfather. After escaping from a New York reform school at the age of fifteen and spending almost a year living on the streets, she made her singing debut at...

Hailed as the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald virtually redefined the art of jazz singing during a distinguished sixty-year recording career in which she undeniably mastered the Great American Songbook. Her wondrously pure tones, crystal clear diction and improvisational ability first caught the wider public's attention in the mid-1930s when she fronted and eventually took over Chick Webb's orchestra. But it was as a solo artist where Fitzgerald established herself as a vocal legend, embracing the advent of bebop by incorporating the scat style into her repertoire, reinventing a whole host of Songbooks from the likes of Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer and releasing some of the greatest live albums of all time. By the time of her retirement in 1994, she'd sold 40 million records, won 13 Grammy Awards and forever changed the face of jazz.

Born in Newport News, VA in 1917, Fitzgerald experienced a difficult upbringing in which she witnessed her parents' divorce, lost her mother and suffered physical abuse at the hands of her stepfather. After escaping from a New York reform school at the age of fifteen and spending almost a year living on the streets, she made her singing debut at Harlem's Apollo Theater, winning an amateur contest with a rendition of her childhood hero Connee Boswell's "Judy." In 1935, she joined Chick Webb's Orchestra, with whom she recorded several hit songs including "Love and Kisses," "Undecided" and most notably, their playful take on nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," and later became their leader following Webb's death before they disbanded in 1941.

A year later, Fitzgerald signed a solo deal with Decca and added to her hits tally through various collaborations with the likes of Bill Kenny & The Ink Spots, The Delta Rhythm Boys and Louis Jordan before making her film debut in Abbott & Costello western comedy "Ride 'Em Cowboy" (1942). After recruiting jazz impresario Norman Granz as her manager, Fitzgerald toured with Dizzy Gillespie's big band where she first began to develop what would become her signature scat style and later recorded a string of bebop classics including "Flying Home," "Oh, Lady Be Good" and "How High The Moon."

Following a memorable cameo as jazz singer Maggie Jackson in "Pete Kelly's Blues" (1955), Fitzgerald moved to the Verve label Granz created especially for her and recorded the first of the eight Songbook projects that would cement her status as an all-time great. Her interpretations of Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin's famous works were both recognised at the inaugural Grammy Awards, their success prompting Frank Sinatra to block Capitol Records from re-releasing his similarly-themed recordings as a mark of respect. While after receiving similar acclaim for a series of collaborative efforts with Louis Armstrong, Fitzgerald briefly appeared in "St. Louis Blues" (1958) and "Let No Man Write My Epitaph" (1960), released the classic live album, Ella In Berlin and broke into the pop charts with her improvised take on "Mack The Knife."

Fitzgerald spent much of the '60s flitting between various record labels while attempting to vary her sound with the likes of the country and western-inspired Misty Blue, the hymnal Brighten The Corner and covers of pop hits "Sunny" and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." But following the surprise success of Jazz at Santa Monica Civic '72, Fitzgerald then returned to her roots, recording over 20 albums for the Pablo label including four joint efforts with guitarist Joe Pass and the Grammy-winning Fine and Mellow, A Perfect Match and Digital III at Montreux, while she also performed a series of money-spinning concerts with Count Basie and Frank Sinatra at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace and on Broadway.

Fitzgerald experienced several health problems throughout her final years including heart failure, exhaustion and diabetes, the latter of which strongly affected her eyesight and later forced her to have both legs amputated. After recording her last album, All That Jazz, in 1989 and making her final live appearance at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1991, Fitzgerald announced her retirement in 1994. Two years later, she passed away at her Beverly Hills mansion at the age of 79, leaving behind a highly distinctive and hugely significant musical legacy.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Listen Up (1990) Herself
2.
3.
 St. Louis Blues (1958) Herself
4.
 Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) Maggie Jackson
5.
 Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942) Ruby
10.
 32nd Annual Grammy Awards, The (1990) Award Presenter
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1918:
Moved with mother and mother's boyfriend Joseph Da Silva to Yonkers, New York (date approximate)
1932:
Upon mother's death, moved to Harlem (NYC) to live with aunt
1934:
Made stage singing debut in amateur contest at the Apollo Theater; won first prize
:
Hired by Chick Webb to sing with his orchestra
1935:
Had first hit recording with "A-Tisket A-Tasket"
1939:
Became nominal lead of Chick Webb Band sfter Webb's death
1941:
First feature appearance as herself in "Ride 'Em Cowboy" starring Abbott and Costello; sang "A-Tisket, A-Tasket"
1955:
Acting debut in a feature "Pete Kelly's Blues"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Benjamin Kornegay. Shipyard worker. Marriage annulled after two years; Kornegay was a petty thief who had a criminal record.
husband:
Ray Brown. Bass player. Married December 1947; divorced 1953.

Family close complete family listing

father:
William Fitzgerald. In common-law marriage with Fitzgerald's mother; separated c. 1918.
mother:
Temperance Williams. In common-law marriage with Fitzgerald's father; separated c. 1918; died in 1932.
half-sister:
Frances.
son:
Ray Brown Jr. Adopted; son of Fitzgerald's half-sister; survived her.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute