Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Black History Spotlight: Ella Fitzgerald

Considered the first woman of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald continuously extended the boundaries of American popular music throughout her career. Her voice posessed eternal youth and still transcends time, never going out of style.

Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia, on April 25, 1918, but moved to the New York suburb of Yonkers with her mother and stepfather. She never knew her real father. In 1935, Fitzgerald made her first recordings, but her first big hit came in 1938 with "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," a swinging improvisation of a nursery rhyme that went straight to the top of the charts. The song has since been enshrined into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Fitzgerald insisted on singing ballads as well as swing and blues. Mario Bauza, music director of Webb's band, once said, "In those days, the recording company didn't want Negroes to sing ballads. . .This lady opened the door for everybody else."

Throughout her career, Fitzgerald has received almost every honor a performer could dream of winning, including the Kennedy Center Honor (1979), the National Medal of Arts (1987), France's Commander of Arts and Letters (1990), and 14 Grammy Awards. On her 75th birthday, in 1993, two retrospective compilations of her work were released: "75th Birthday Celebration," made up of her Decca recordings, and "First Lady of Song," drawn from her best Verve work. Fitzgerald died in 1996 at the age of 78.