Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) was an American jazz vocalist with a vocal range spanning three octaves Often referred to as the “First Lady of Song” and the “Queen of Jazz,” she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
Fitzgerald was a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over the course of her 59-year recording career, she sold 40 million copies of her 70-plus albums, won 13 Grammy Awards and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush.
Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia, the daughter of William Fitzgerald and Temperance “Tempie” Fitzgerald. Her parents were unmarried, and they had separated within a year of her birth. With her mother’s new partner, a Portuguese immigrant named Joseph Da Silva, Ella and her mother moved to the city of Yonkers, in Westchester County, New York, as part of the first Great Migration of African Americans. Initially living in a single room, her mother and Da Silva soon found jobs and Ella’s half-sister, Frances Da Silva, was born in 1923. By 1925, Fitzgerald and her family had moved to nearby School Street, then a predominantly poor Italian area. At the age of six, Fitzgerald began her formal education, and moved through a variety of schools before attending Benjamin Franklin Junior High School from 1929.
In 1942, Fitzgerald left the band to begin a solo career. Now signed to the Decca label, she had several popular hits while recording with such artists as Bill Kenny & The Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and The Delta Rhythm Boys.
With Decca’s Milt Gabler as her manager, she began working regularly for the jazz impresario Norman Granz and appeared regularly in his Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) concerts. Fitzgerald’s relationship with Granz was further cemented when he became her manager, although it would be nearly a decade before he could record her on one of his many record labels.