Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia in 1917 and moved to Younkers, New York with her mother shortly after her birth. In 1932, Fitzgerald’s mother died and she moved in with her aunt. She was eventually sent to a reform school, but ran away at the age of fifteen and was homeless for a while. She found work wherever she could, but it was a struggle. Looking back on those days, she chose to use the memories as inspiration to bring emotion to her singing.
Growing up, Fitzgerald was a fan of jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, but she had always dreamed of being a dancer. In 1934, the Apollo Theater in Harlem had an amateur night. Fitzgerald was planning on dancing, until she saw all of the talented dancers that went before her. She then decided to sing, and ended up winning the contest and the $25 prize. She was seventeen years old at the time.
In January 1935, Fitzgerald was introduced to Chick Webb, who was looking for a singer to join his orchestra. He almost didn’t hire her because of her looks, but he gave her a chance and audiences loved her. Fitzgerald played with Webb until his death in 1939. She then became the bandleader for three more years, before embarking on a solo career. Fitzgerald had hit after hit during this time and in 1938 she recorded “A Tisket a Tasket” which sold one million copies and was number one on the charts for seventeen weeks.
In 1942, Fitzgerald signed with Decca label and recorded with many musicians such as Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. Then in 1946, Fitzgerald began touring with Jazz at the Philharmonic throughout the United States and in Europe. This gave her world-wide attention and she soon became one of the best-known international jazz performers.
Fitzgerald performed jazz throughout her life, but in the 1960s she began concentrating on popular music. In 1956, Fitzgerald began to record a number of songbooks, working with the artists of Cole...