/arts-days

April 25

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald worked with great talents including Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington, among others, playing her final concert at Carnegie Hall when she was 73 years old.

Photo by Frank Driggs Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images

1918: The First Lady of Song
Ella Fitzgerald is born in Newport News, Virginia
At age 15, Ella Fitzgerald won the chance to compete at amateur night at New York City’s famed Apollo Theater. While she had originally planned to do a dance number, she got nervous. Fitzgerald changed her mind at the last minute, opened her mouth, and sang. That glorious voice stunned the audience and delighted jazz sax player Benny Carter, who happened to be there that night.

Carter went on to introduce Fitzgerald to people who might help this young singer find a greater audience. Fitzgerald later mastered a type of vocal improvisation called “scat singing,” in which she would sing in syllables, not words. Scatting lets a singer play around with sound, creating a vocal solo much like a clarinetist or trumpeter might invent a solo on his instrument. Fitzgerald, a 1979 Kennedy Center Honoree, made about 200 jazz records, whose collective sales would number about 40 million.
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