Performing Arts

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Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) was an American jazz singer, sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Virginia. By the time Ella was almost 3, her parents, William and Tempie (an abbreviation of Temperance), were living in New York City. Shortly after William disappeared and Tempie began living with Joseph, or Joe, Da Silva in Yonkers, Westchester County, New York. In 1932, Ella’s mother, Tempie, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 38. For a while Ella stayed on with her half sister, Frances, and stepfather, but rumours started spreading that Joe wasn’t treating his stepdaughter well. Joe died not long after Tempie and then Frances, too, moved in with the girls’ aunt in Harlem.

Ella dropped out of school and began “running numbers" which saw Ella caught by authorities and end up in the New York State Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York. She hated being there and ran away in 1934. Unable to return to her aunt’s house, in case she was caught, Ella was homeless for quite some time. Determined to “make something” of herself, in November 1934 Ella entered and won a competition for new talent at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. In January 1935 she won another competition at the Harlem Opera House, which was noted in the New York Age. Then an opportunity opened up for her in May that year when William “Chick” Webb (1905-1939) gave her a job as the vocalist for his band. The job lasted until Webb’s death, after which Ella Fitzgerald began recording and performing solo in theatres.

During the 1950s Ella Fitzgerald became a bestselling recording artist. She appeared on television and in films as well as continuing to perform in theatres internationally.
Ella Fitzgerald was awarded 14 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967. Amongst numerous other awards she received an Honorary Doctorate from Harvard University in 1990 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.