Ella Fitzgerald

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Ella Fitzgerald (1940)
Ella Fitzgerald (1946)
Ella Fitzgerald during a concert in Cologne with Sennheiser MD 21 (1975)

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (born April 25, 1917 in Newport News , Virginia , † June 15, 1996 in Beverly Hills , California ) was an American jazz singer .


Childhood and adolescence

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News in 1917 to William and Temperance "Tempie" Fitzgerald. Her father was a driver; he left the family shortly after giving birth and died a year later. Tempie later married Joseph "Joe" da Silva. The half-sister Frances, born in 1923, comes from this marriage. When Ella Fitzgerald was two years old, the family moved into a single room in Yonkers near New York , and later in Mill Town. Her mother worked in a laundry and in the catering sector, her Portuguese stepfather as a pit builder and part-time chauffeur.

Fitzgerald grew up listening to the music of Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong . She was particularly fond of the Boswell Sisters , of whom Connee Boswell became one of her great role models. Fitzgerald loved to dance. She was also a good student at school and was able to make many friends in her neighborhood, with whom she sometimes went to the Apollo Theater in Harlem . As a runner, she made money on the side by placing bets on players and bringing them the profit. In 1932, according to other sources, in 1930, her mother, to whom she had a close relationship, died as a result of a car accident , and again according to other sources of a heart attack . She continued to live with her stepfather, who abused her. He later died of a heart attack. Eventually she was taken in by her aunt Virginia. Fitzgerald neglected school as a result of her mother's death. She stole money and, as a guard, warned a brothel about the police. In Harlem she was picked up by the police and initially housed in the Colored Asylum Orphanage in Riverdale . Because of the overcrowded orphanage , she was admitted to the New York State Training School for Girls in Hudson in April 1933 with the note "not educable" . In it Fitzgerald was apparently beaten and abused, Fitzgerald never spoke about this time later. The school strictly separated according to white and black skin color, which is why Fitzgerald probably did not sing in the choir, although her singing was noticed by some employees. A year later she fled to Harlem.


She made her debut as a singer at the age of seventeen on November 21, 1934 in the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem ; the Apollo Theater held regular amateur competitions, one of which she won. Originally she wanted to compete as a dancer in this talent competition. When the moment came, however, her legs were shaking with excitement, as the group of Edwards Sisters had already danced ahead to applause. Instead, she sang the song Judy , composed by Hoagy Carmichael and a favorite song of her mother, as well as The Object of My Affection , which was a number one hit with the Boswell Sisters that same year. Her debut as a singer at the Apollo also earned her first place, after which Fitzgerald appeared in other concert halls, such as the Harlem Opera House or Minton's Playhouse , where she later met her husband, bassist Ray Brown .

In early 1935 Ella Fitzgerald first met band leader and drummer Chick Webb , who was looking for a singer to perform alongside singer Charles Linton. Since Webb was skeptical about her appearance and demeanor, he invited her to sing with his band at a dance evening at Yale University. The test convinced both the audience and the band members.

Fitzgerald was then engaged by Chick Webb in his big band in 1935 . In 1936 they made their first record with Love and Kisses ; In 1938 they had a number one hit : the cheerful A Tisket A Tasket - actually a nursery rhyme - made them a star with Chick Webb. Another number one hit succeeded with Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall in 1944. Fitzgerald was in both the pop, as well as in R & B - and Country - Charts place the United States.

When Chick Webb died in 1939, she initially took over the band, which now appeared under the name Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra . But since Ella Fitzgerald could not read music, she was not suitable as a band leader. So she started her solo career in 1941 and developed into one of the greatest jazz singers. In 1946 she toured with Dizzy Gillespie and appeared in the Jazz-at-the-Philharmonic concert series by Norman Granz , who also let her take part in the music film Improvisation (1950).

Due to the racial segregation at the time, Ella was, despite her successes, still ostracized in many appearances, so Marilyn Monroe , who was a big fan of her, ensured with her fame in 1954 that she was finally booked for big stages and thus helped decisively her final breakthrough as a jazz star. The two women remained friends throughout their lives.

After appearing in the 1955 film Pete Kelly's Blues , she went to Verve Records . Their repertoire ranged from swing to bebop , blues , bossa nova , samba , gospel and hip-hop to jazzed up Christmas carols. She was often called the First Lady of Song . Her trademark was a type of singing that she helped to develop and that made her world famous: scat singing . Characteristic is the youthful charm of her voice and her still unsurpassed ease of phrasing, which allowed her to improvise with a considerable vocal range of three octaves like a jazz instrumentalist.

Fitzgerald's outstanding recordings include her songbooks of the most important American composers of the first half of the 20th century, to whom she set monuments and gave all subsequent singers textbooks for the perfect interpretation of the respective songs.

Below is a list of their classic songbooks for the Verve label and the associated arrangers:

The then US President Ronald Reagan presented Ella Fitzgerald with the
National Medal of Arts in 1987

She later also recorded songbooks for other record companies, including again songs by the Gershwin brothers as well as Cole Porter and Antônio Carlos Jobim . Colleagues like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington followed their example and also recorded songbooks. Another important recording by Fitzgerald is Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess , which she recorded with Louis Armstrong . In addition, there are numerous live recordings of Fitzgerald's concerts, which show that there was no difference between a studio or a live gig with her. The only qualitative differences are in the recording technique. She won a total of 13 Grammys and the 1967 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award ; In 1987 she was awarded the National Medal of Arts .

Death and obituary

She suffered from diabetes for many years , which led to blindness towards the end of her life. Another consequence of the disease was the amputation of both lower legs in 1993. She died three years later as one of the most important jazz singers of the 20th century. She is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood near Los Angeles .

In 2017, on her 100th birthday, the anniversary exhibition First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100 opened at the National Museum of American History in Washington. The Grammy Museum also dedicated an exhibition to the singer: Ella At 100: Celebrating the Artistry of Ella Fitzgerald .


Fitzgerald was married at least twice. Her first marriage was in 1939 - other sources speak of 1941 - with the dock worker Benjamin "Benny" Kornegay, who followed her and her band as a kind of male groupie at every turn. When she learned of her husband's criminal involvement after a short marriage, she had the marriage annulled. Her second husband was from 1946 to 1952 - other sources give different data, such as B. 1947-1953 or December 10, 1947-1952 - bassist Ray Brown , with whom she adopted a child, Ray Brown, Jr. In 1957 reports circulated in the Scandinavian press that she had secretly married the young Norwegian Thor Einar Larsen.

Discography (selection)

Ella Fitzgerald (1947)
  • 1938 - A-Tisket, A-Tasket (first hit single with Chick Webb )
  • 1944 I'm Making Believe (number one hit with The Ink Spots )
  • 1950 - Ella Sings Gershwin
  • 1954 - Lullabies of Birdland
  • 1954 - Songs in a Mellow Mood
  • 1955 - Songs from "Pete Kelly's Blues"
  • 1955 - The First Lady of Song (Decca)
  • 1956 - Sings the Cole Porter Songbook Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
  • 1956 - Ella and Louis
  • 1956 - Ella Fitzgerald sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook (with the Buddy Bregman Orchestra)
  • 1957 - Ella and Louis Again
  • 1957 - Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook
  • 1957 - Ella Fitzgerald at the Opera House
  • 1957 - Like Someone in Love
  • 1957 - Porgy and Bess
  • 1958 - Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday at Newport
  • 1958 - Ella Swings Lightly
  • 1958 - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook
  • 1959 - Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book
  • 1960 - Ella Fitzgerald sings Songs from the Soundtrack of Let No Man Write My Epitaph
  • 1960 - Ella in Berlin: Mack The Knife
  • 1960 - Hello, Love
  • 1960 - Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
  • 1961 - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook
  • 1961 - Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie (Verve)
  • 1962 - Ella Swings brightly with Nelson
  • 1962 - Ella Swings gently with Nelson
  • 1963 - Ella Sings Broadway
  • 1963 - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook
  • 1963 - On the Sunny Side of the Street - Ella and Basie
  • 1963 - These Are the Blues (Verve)
  • 1964 - Hello, Dolly! (Verve)
  • 1964 - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook
  • 1965 - Ella at Duke's Place
  • 1965 - Ella in Hamburg (Verve)
  • 1967 - Whisper Not
  • 1967 - Brighten the Corner (Capitol Records)
  • 1967 - Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas (Capitol Records)
  • 1968 - 30 by Ella (Capitol Records)
  • 1968 - Misty Blue (Capitol Records)
  • 1969 - Sunshine of Your Love (Capitol Records)
  • 1969 - Ella (Reprise Records)
  • 1970 - Things Ain't What They Used to Be (And You Better Believe It) (Reprise Records)
  • 1971 - Ella A Nice (Pablo)
  • 1972 - Ella Loves Cole (Atlantic Records)
  • 1973 - Newport Jazz Festival: Live at Carnegie Hall (Columbia Records)
  • 1973 - Take Love Easy (Pablo)
  • 1974 - Fine And Mellow (Pablo)
  • 1974 - Ella in London (Pablo)
  • 1974 - Ella and Oscar (Pablo)
  • 1975 - At the Montreux Festival (Pablo)
  • 1977 - With The Tommy Flanagan Trio, Montreux '77 (Pablo)
  • 1978 - Dream Dancing
  • 1980 - Ella Abraça Jobim | Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Antonio Carlos Job in the Songbook
  • 1990 - All That Jazz
  • 2016 - Ella & Louis Christmas
  • 2017 - Someone to Watch Over Me (with the London Symphony Orchestra)
  • 2017 - Ella at Zardi's
  • 2020 - The Lost Berlin Tapes

Chart placements


year title Top ranking, total weeks, awardChart placementsChart placements
(Year, title, rankings, weeks, awards, notes)
1958 Irving Berlin Song Book - - UK5 (1 week)
First published: 1958
1959 Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas - - - US111 (3 weeks)
First published: 1958
1960 Ella Sings Gershwin - - UK13 (3 weeks)
First published: 1960
Ella At The Opera House - - UK16 (1 week)
First published: 1960
Ella Sings Gershwin Volume 5 - - UK18 (2 weeks)
First published: 1960
1963 Ella and Basie! - - - US69 (20 weeks)
First published: 1963
1964 Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin - - - US111 (5 weeks)
First published: 1964
Hello, Dolly! - - - US146 (2 weeks)
First published: 1964
1967 Brighten The Corner - - - US172 (2 weeks)
First published: 1967
1969 Ella - - - US196 (2 weeks)
First published: 1969
1980 The Incomparable Ella - - UK40 (7 weeks)
First published: 1980
1988 A Portrait Of Ella Fitzgerald - - UK42

(10 weeks)UK
First published: 1988
1993 The Best Of The Song Books - - - US-
First published: 1993
1994 Essential Ella - - UK35

(17 weeks)UK
First published: 1994
1995 The best of - - UK-
First published: 1995
1996 Forever Ella - - UK19th

(15 weeks)UK
First published: 1996
re-entry in 2007
2003 gold - - UK15th

(15 weeks)UK
First published: 2003
2004 Ella & Louis Forever - - UK43 (2 weeks)
First published: 2004
with Louis Armstrong
2005 Love songs - - UK61 (2 weeks)
First published: 2005
2007 Love Letters From Ella - - - US97 (7 weeks)
First published: 2007
2009 Golden Voices - - - US178 (1 week)
First published: 2009
2010 Twelve Nights in Hollywood - - - US155 (2 weeks)
First published: 2010
2011 Let's fall in love - - - US80 (3 weeks)
First published: 2011
2017 Someone To Watch Over Me - - UK53 (1 week)
First published: 2017
with the London Symphony Orchestra
2018 Ella & Louis Christmas - - - US174 (1 week)
First published: 2018
with Louis Armstrong
2020 The Lost Berlin Tapes DE79 (1 week)
CH56 (1 week)
- -
First published: October 2, 2020

hatched gray : no chart data available for this year


year Title
Top ranking, total weeks, awardChart placementsChart placements
(Year, title, album , rankings, weeks, awards, notes)
1956 A beautiful friendship - - US74 (5 weeks)
First published: 1956
1958 Swingin 'Shepherd Blues - UK15 (5 weeks)
First published: 1958
1959 Bout Not For Me - UK25 (3 weeks)
First published: 1959
1960 Mack The Knife - UK19 (9 weeks)
US27 (14 weeks)
First published: 1960
How High The Moon (Part 1) - UK46 (1 week)
US76 (5 weeks)
First published: 1960
1962 Desafinado - UK38 (6 weeks)
First published: 1962
1963 Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home - - US75 (3 weeks)
First published: 1963
1964 Can't Buy Me Love - UK34 (5 weeks)
First published: 1964
1989 Summertime - UK82 (2 weeks)
First published: 1989


Movie and TV

Fitzgerald had her greatest film appearance in 1955 in Jack Webb's jazz film Pete Kelly's Blues . The supporting roles of the film were cast with Janet Leigh and the singer Peggy Lee . Although she had previously had a small role in a film ( Heroes in the Saddle , 1942), she was thrilled that Norman Granz offered her the role. After Pete Kelly's Blues , she was only seen in cameo appearances . For example in St. Louis Blues (1958) with Nat King Cole or Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960). Much later, in the 1980s, she starred in the television drama The White Shadow .

She appeared in television commercials for Kentucky Fried Chicken and the cassette maker Memorex .


  • 1942: Heroes in the Saddle (Ride 'Em Cowboy)
  • 1950: improvisation (short film)
  • 1952: All Star Summer Revue (TV series, episode 1.8 )
  • 1955: It Happened in One Night (Pete Kelly's Blues)
  • 1958: St. Louis Blues
  • 1960: The Seed Breaks (Let No Man Write My Epitaph)
  • 1966: All My Life (short film)
  • 1980: The White Shadow (TV series, episode A Day in the Life )


  • Version 2.1 "Ella" of the popular blog software Wordpress is dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald.
  • The song Ella, elle l'a by France Gall (in 1988 number 1 on the German charts) pays homage to Ella Fitzgerald.
  • Ella Fitzgerald and other famous musicians were in the song Back in the Day of Christina Aguilera immortalized.
  • Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall , which Ella Fitzgerald recorded with the Ink Spots , is played in the video game Fallout 3 on the fictional radio station 'Galaxy News Radio'.
  • Stone Cold Dead in the Market , recorded by Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Jordan , is played in the video game LA Noire on the fictional radio station 'KTI Radio'.
  • The documentary Ella Fitzgerald: Just one of those Things by the British film director Leslie Woodhead was released in 2019 about Ella Fitzgerald .


Web links

Commons : Ella Fitzgerald  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Stuart Nicholson: Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz . Routledge, New York and London 2004, ISBN 978-0-415-97119-5 , pp. 3 (English).
  2. a b c d e Biography. March 11, 2015, accessed on July 16, 2020 .
  3. a b c d e f g Reggie Nadelson: The Theater Where Ella Fitzgerald Got Her Start . In: The New York Times . June 25, 2020, ISSN  0362-4331 ( nytimes.com [accessed July 16, 2020]).
  4. ARD.de: Queen of Jazz: Ella Fitzgerald - picture gallery. Retrieved March 26, 2020 .
  5. a b c Nina Bernstein: Ward of the State; The Gap in Ella Fitzgerald's Life . In: The New York Times . June 23, 1996, ISSN  0362-4331 ( nytimes.com [accessed July 16, 2020]).
  6. ^ Ella Fitzgerald Commitment Records. Accessed July 16, 2020 .
  7. cosmopolis.ch
  8. Steve Hawtin et al .: Songs from the Year 1938 ; The World's Music Charts on tsort.info; Retrieved June 15, 2011
  9. ^ Gary Giddins: Visions of Jazz: The First Century . Oxford University Press 200, ISBN 978-0-19-513241-0 , p. 142 ( limited online version in Google Book Search - USA )
  10. ^ Sara Kettler: Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe: Inside Their Surprising Friendship. Retrieved January 12, 2021 (American English).
  11. Ella Fitzgerald at 100. February 24, 2017, accessed on January 12, 2021 (English).
  12. Revisit: Ella at 100: Celebrating the Artistry of Ella Fitzgerald - GRAMMY Museum. Retrieved January 12, 2021 (American English).
  13. Fast Facts ( Memento of March 28, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) ellafitzgerald.com
  14. Ella Fitzgerald Biography imdb.com
  15. Ella Fitzgerald Biography biography.com
  16. Ella Fitzgerald, the Voice of Jazz, Dies at 79 ; Announcement in the New York Times dated June 16, 1996, accessed March 27, 2021.
  17. a b Chart sources: DE CH UK1 UK2 US chart surfers
  18. Music Sales Awards: UK US
  19. Ella Fitzgerald: Just one of those things. In: Lexicon of International Films . Film service , accessed January 16, 2020 . 


  1. 1918 is given in older encyclopedias. The year of birth 1917 is used here according to research by Stuart Nicholson on his biography Ella Fitzgerald - The First Lady of Jazz , Scribners 1993.
  2. Singers like Sarah Vaughan also made their debut at such competitions.