What would you call the most popular female jazz singer over a period of 50 years? Who won 13 Grammys and sold more than 40 million albums? You could only be talking about Miss Ella, and you’d call her “The First Lady of Song.”
Ella and I have something in common, besides our golden voices. We were both born in Newport News, Virginia. But Ella endured a difficult early life – a father who left early, a mother who died when Ella was 15, a brief time in a reformatory after being orphaned. Only one thing got her through, and that was singing.
An appearance at an amateur night at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem gave her the confidence to know that performing is where she felt truly at home. She mastered the art of scat singing as no one has before or since. She finally had her first million seller, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” at the ripe old age of 21.
Ella was greatly admired by her fellow musicians and those who wrote her songs. “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them,” was how Ira Gershwin put it. The “Great American Songbook” was her text, and she was a master interpreter.
“I know I’m no glamour girl,” Ella said, “and it’s not easy for me to get up in front of a crowd of people. It used to bother me a lot, but now I’ve got it figured out that God gave me this talent to use, so I just stand there and sing.”