Today (April 25th) is Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday! Fifty-eight years of performing, along with thirteen Grammys and over forty million records sold, Ella was undeniably the First Lady of Song. Her life was the quintessential American success story, as she started on the streets of Harlem and made her way into the limelight of musical fame. As Johnny Mathis said, “She was the best there ever was.” Let’s celebrate Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday by taking a look at some fun facts and trivia about this talented diva and queen of swing.
- The beginning of her career as a singer happened on accident. Since Ella’s first dream was to be a dancer, she was going to perform a dance at the Apollo Theater in 1934 during Amateur Hour. But when her young 16-year-old self stepped onto the stage, she was too intimidated to dance, so instead, she sang “Judy”. She completely blew the crowd away and won first prize that night.
- Ella was born in Newport News, Virginia, in 1917. After the death of her father, she moved to Yonkers, NY with her mother, and attended a public school there. She joined the glee club, and that’s how she received her musical education. Clearly, she had the talent to back it up.
- Throughout her career, Ella became known for her talent in swing, bebop, and beautiful ballads. Her classic voice can be easily identified, and her effortless sound is something that we just don’t hear much of from today’s artists.
- After being a part of Chick Webb’s band and even leading it for three years, she began her solo career in the mid 40s. She was already a well-respected figure throughout the music industry, and her vibrant and energetic voice demonstrated her incredible range and control. Her talent was rivaled only (maybe) by Frank Sinatra, and she recorded work by Cole Porter, Ira and George Gershwin, and Rogers and Hart.
- Ella recorded hits with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few. Probably my favorite of her collaborations is with Louis, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”. They did a whole album together, and it is a masterpiece.
- Some of Ella Fitzgerald’s other great hits include “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, “Cheek to Cheek”, “Summertime”, “Love is Here to Stay”, “The Nearness of You”… ahhh I could go on and on. Check out her extensive collection on Spotify. Oh and don’t even get me started on her lovely Christmas album.
- “I’m very shy, and I shy away from people.” Ella was not an extrovert, but she said “the moment I hit the stage, it’s a different feeling. I get nerve from somewhere; maybe it’s because it’s something I love to do.” She was passionate about her career, and despite her personal fears, she always stepped up when the time came. What a beautiful example of dedication! Following your dreams and pursuing your passions in life are such important ideals, because no matter what life throws at you, you will be able to persevere knowing that you are doing what you love.
- Fitzgerald was a hard worker and even in her last years of life, she performed with enthusiasm and charisma. In 1992, President Ronald Reagan awarded her the National Medal of Honor, two years after she had finally retired due to ailing health. Ella spent the last few years of her life at her home in Beverly Hills, and on June 15th in 1996, she passed away at the age of seventy-eight.
- Finally, here are a few quotes from The First Lady of Song herself:”The only thing better than singing is more singing.” – Ella Fitzgerald”Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” – Ella Fitzgerald
“It isn’t where you came from, it’s where you’re going that counts.” – Ella Fitzgerald
Happy Birthday, Ella!
The only thing better than singing is more singing.
Featured image via berkleejazz.org