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Ella Fitzgerald, known as the "First Lady of Song" and "Lady Ella," was an American jazz and song vocalist who interpreted much of the Great American Songbook.
Gloria Gaynor - Respect (1:16)
Watch a short video about Ella Fitzgerald and learn how this singer earned her title as the "First Lady of Jazz."
Ella Fitzgerald began her career as a singer at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and from there went on to become world renowned for her talent.
Disco queen Gloria Gaynor comments on the impact of Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and how it brought a sense of pride and self respect to black women.
A short biography of Aretha Franklin, who became known as the Queen of Soul, with legendary hits like "Natural Woman," "Respect," and "Freeway of Love."
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Fitzgerald also hired Granz to become her manager.
Around this time, Fitzgerald went on tour with Dizzy Gillespie and his band. She started changing her singing style, incorporating scat singing during her performances with Gillespie. Fitzgerald also fell in love with Gillespie's bass player Ray Brown. The pair wed in 1947,
and they adopted a child born to Fitzgerald's half-sister whom they named Raymond "Ray" Brown Jr. The marriage ended in 1952.
The 1950s and '60s proved to be a time of critical and commercial success for Fitzgerald. She even earned the moniker "The First Lady of Song" for her mainstream popularity and unparalleled vocal talents. Her unique ability to mimicking instrumental sounds helped popularize the vocal improvisation of "scatting" which became her signature technique.
In 1955, Fitzgerald began recording for Granz's newly created Verve Records. She made some of her most popular albums for Verve, starting out with 1956's Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book. Two years later, Fitzgerald picked up her first two Grammy Awards for two later songbook projects—Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book and Ella Fitagerald Sings the Irving Berlin Song Book. She actually worked directly with Ellington on that album.
A truly collaborative soul, Fitzgerald produced great recordings with such artists as Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. She also performed several times with Frank Sinatra over the years as well. In 1960, Fitzgerald actually broke into the pop charts with her rendition of "Mack the Knife." She was still going strong well into the '70s, playing concerts across the globe. One especially memorable concert series from this time was a two-week engagement in New York City in 1974 with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie.
By the 1980s, Fitzgerald began to experience health problems. She had heart surgery in 1986 and then discovered she had diabetes. The disease left her blind, and she had both legs amputated in 1994. She made her last recording in 1989 and her last public performance in 1991 at New York's Carnegie Hall. Ella Fitzgerald died on June 15, 1996, at her home in Beverly Hills.
In all, Fitzgerald recorded more than 200 albums and some 2,000 songs in her lifetime. Her total record sales exceeded 40 million. Her many accolades included 13 Grammy Awards, the NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
While some critics complained that her style and voice lacked the depth of some her more bluesy counterparts, her success and the respect she garnered from the biggest names in the music industry showed that Fitzgerald was in a class all her own. Mel Torme described her as "the High Priestess of Song" and Pearl Bailey called her "the greatest singer of them all," according to Fitzgerald's official website. And Bing Crosby once said, "Man, woman of child, Ella is the greatest of them all."
Since her passing, Fitzgerald has been honored and remembered in so many ways. The United States Postal Service honored the late singer with an Ella Fitzgerald commemorative stamp celebrating the 90th anniversary of her birth. That same year, the tribute album We All Ella featured such artists as Gladys Knight, Etta James and Queen Latifah performing some of Fitzgerald's classic songs.
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Many African-Americans made their name performing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, including Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. The roster of talented artists who made their careers after a successful amateur night at the Apollo grew so large, that the venue earned a reputation as the place to jump-start the career of an ambitious hopeful. Other performers, like Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson, came to the theater after experiencing big professional success, adding further credibility to the historic New York concert hall. Explore the biographies of some of the more notable African-Americans who stepped out onto the Apollo stage, making entertainment history.
Apollo Legends 25 people in this group
Hair Dos and Don'ts 29 people in this group
With its roots in the blues, jazz has been referred to as America's classical music, yet has also become a major global phenomenon, branching off into a variety of forms. Earlier pioneers like Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton paved the way for the swinging big-band sounds of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. In contrast, contemporaries Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk developed bebop, with its speedy, dissonant harmonies and improvisations. And Miles Davis heralded the birth of cool jazz, modal jazz and fusion at different points in his career. Famous jazz instrumentalists have tended to be male, yet women have been at the forefront of the genre when it comes to vocalization, from the brassy blues of Bessie Smith to the haunting eclecticism of Nina Simone.
Famous Jazz Musicians 29 people in this group