ELLA FITZGERALD

Ella Fitzgerald was known as the "First Lady of Song"; her vocals were accepted as the gentlest in jazz history, although many rated other singers, such as Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holliday, in the top rank. Ella, who was endowed with a huge range of voice, was a match for any other singer. She was a distinctive scat singer and had perfect intonation; every word and thought was always clearly understood. Ella's only fault was a verve for life which didn't always allow her to sing as lyrically as some songs demanded; even her version of "Love for Sale" sounded joyful and merry. But taking her career as a whole, there is no other singer to compare with her. Early in her career, Ella Fitzgerald had a similar dry voice to that of Billie Holliday.

Ella Fitzgerald

Poverty-stricken, Ella was for some time actually homeless; she stopped singing for a period. In 1934, she won a competition for amateur singers in Harlem's Apollo Theatre, singing "Judy" from the repertoire of Connee Boswell, who was her idol. After working with Tiny Bradshaw, she was introduced to Chick Webb by Benny Carter who had seen her at the Apollo. Webb was not taken by her appearance but offered her work anyway with his orchestra.

Ella Fitzgerald

She came through this examination successfully and this famous drummer realised Ella's serious commercial potential. From 1935, Fitzgerald began recording with Webb's orchestra. From 1937 most of the group's songs featured her vocals. In 1938 they recorded the hit, "A-tisket, A-tasket" followed soon after by the song, "Undecided". In this period Ella was noted for her unusual, young voice, notably strong on ballads and also singing pop-swing. Her voice was strong, but she had not yet graduated to improvisation and scat. These abilities developed later.

Ella Fitzgerald

On 16th June 1939, Chick Webb died. After this, the whole orchestra agreed to her taking over the leadership. At this time she had little experience of 'hiring and firing' musicians, but she was able to preserve the group's popularity and, in 1941, when the orchestra split up, she was in a position to launch a solo career. Ella began to work with the Ella Ink Spots, Louis Jordan and the "Delta Rhythm Boys", but in 1946 she worked with Norman Granz's 'Jazz at the Philharmonic'. Granz was her manager, but it took him nearly ten years to persuade her to record for his label. During these years Ella's singing underwent significant changes: touring with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band, she sang be-bop and developed new styles. She began to use scat. From 1945-47 her recordings of "Lady Be Good", "How High the Moon" and "Flying Home" became popular and she became the top jazz singer. After marrying bassist Ray Brown, she began to sing (1948-52) with her husband's trio.
Ella Fitzgerald

Also, in 1950 and 1954, she recorded duets with Ellis Larkins, on which she sang George Gershwin's songs in her own style.

In 1955, after being cast in the film, "Pete Kelly's Blues" she signed a contract with the Verve label and in the following years recorded the 'Songbooks' albums.

Ella Fitzgerald

These albums included the songs of Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. Except for Ellington's songs, this could not be termed Ella Fitzgerald's main jazz project, but it advanced her popularity. In the 60s, at the peak of her career, she recorded a live version of 'Mack the Knife' in Berlin. The album consists of upbeat, happy songs, some of whose lyrics she forgot, substituting her own words. This album became a classic.

Ella Fitzgerald

From 1967-70 she recorded for Capitol and Reprise, but her singing was at a lower level. In this period Fitzgerald brought into her repertoire new songs: 'Sunny' and 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine', but her singing was a little weaker. Fortunately there was no dip in her career, because Norman Granz started a new label, 'Pavlo' and decided to record her. In 1972, after a concert in Santa Monica, Ella Fitzgerald gained acceptance as a pearl of jazz and began to sing with luminaries such as Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass. From the 70s her voice understandably weakened and in the 1980s her singing career ended. Naturally age was a factor; problems with her eyes and heart distracted her from her music, but her occasional live performances stood out for their swing and joyful tone.

Ella Fitzgerald

In 1994 she finally retired and died two years later. But her name lives on. Her albums have been re-released on CD.