Ella Fitzgerald Biography

Ella FitzgeraldClaim to Fame: Singer
DOB: April 25, 1917
Date of Death: June 15, 1996
Diabetes Type: unknown

Ella Fitzgerald, also known as "First Lady of Song" and "Lady Ella", captured audiences everywhere with her astonishing vocal range, scat singing, and improvisational ability. With a career that produced 13 Grammy Awards and sold over 40 million albums, she is considered to have been one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th Century.

Ella was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia but spent the majority of her childhood in Yonkers, New York where she lived with her mother, stepfather, and half-sister. At the age of 15 Ella lost her mother in a car accident; a tragedy that she would later draw from for inspiration in her music.

Both Ella and her sister then went to live with their Aunt Virginia. It was at this point that Ella's grades began to drop as she skipped school and became increasingly unhappy. She ran into trouble with the police, and was then sent to a reform school. After suffering beatings by her caretakers, Ella escaped from the reformatory only to find she was homeless and broke during the great depression.

Her luck finally changed when she won the opportunity to compete in Amateur Night at the Apollo. She blew the audience away when she sang Hoagy Carmichael's "Judy" and then took first prize with her encore of "The Object of My Affection". Saxophonist Benny Carter was in the band that night and began introducing Ella to people who could help with her career.

In 1935 Ella won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band. The drummer and bandleader, Chick Webb ended up making her a permanent part of the band. After Chick Webb died in 1939, the band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra". She also began to sing with Webb's Orchestra at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. It was with them that she recorded the hit songs "Love and Kisses", "You'll Have to Swing It" and "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."

When bebop came about in the early 1940's, Ella had to adjust her vocal style accordingly. She began implementing scat singing, improvised melodies and rhythms, into her performances. "Oh, Lady be Good!", "Flying Home" and "How High the Moon" were all bebop hits of hers.

Ella soon became a part of the "Jazz at the Philharmonic" tour and began working on her infamous songbook series. From 1956-64, she recorded covers of other musicians' albums. She also appeared on many popular television programs, including "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show" and "The Andy Williams Show." In1974 she spent two weeks performing with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie in New York. In fact, Ella toured all over the world throughout her career.

Ella Fitzgerald's influential jazz career resulted in many different awards. In 1979 she was inducted into the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame, and received a Kennedy Center Honors for her continuing contributions to the arts. Many Universities gave her honorary doctorates. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan awarded Ella the National Medal of Arts, and France later presented her their Commander of Arts and Letters award.

In 1986 Ella was diagnosed with diabetes. Complication from the disease took both of her legs and then her life on June 15, 1996. She was laid to rest in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

Find more famous musicians with diabetes.

Last Modified Date: January 16, 2014

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by Brenda Bell
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