Have you ever dreamed of being a singer, or did you ever have a dream? For more than half a century, Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States, and she followed her dream.
She was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. Soon after her birth her parents, William and Temperance divorced. A little bit later she moved in with her soon to be stepfather, Joseph Da Silva, in Yonkers, New York.
During this time she went to public schools and lived with her half-sister Frances. She enjoyed dancing and singing with friends and would often ride a train to Harlem with them and watch different acts at the Apollo Theater.
Around this time her family struggled financially and she would pick up a job here and there to help out. Then, in 1932 her mother died from injuries she got in a car accident.During this horrible time she lived with Joseph but later moved in with Virginia, her mother’s sister. She could not adjust and her grades dropped. She got in trouble with the police, was put in custody, and was moved into a reform school. There she suffered deeply.
Her caretaker beat her and eventually she escaped. Then, she found herself broke and alone during a time of despair, the Great Depression.Though she was suffering, she was happy that these times helped her mature.
Afterward, in 1934 her name was pulled for an Apollo Theater drawing to compete in Amatuer Night. She was going to dance, but a better group of dancers were going to compete. So, she decided to sing a rendition of one of her mother’s favorite songs.
Though a very shy and reserved person offstage, onstage she felt at home and knew that was what she wanted to do. Then, the saxophonist from her band, Benny Carter started introducing her to people so she could launch her career.
To start her career she traveled with Chick Webb and his band.Then, in 1936 she released her first record “Love and Kisses” , which was released under the Decca label.
During her career one of the things she was best known for was her scat singing. She used her voice to take the place of an instrument her band.
Two years later, in 1938 she turned the famous nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” into a song. Soon, millions of copies were sold and suddenly she was famous.After the loss of Chick Webb in 1939, the band was renamed, “Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Band”.
In 1941 she married Benny Kornegay. But after finding out he had criminal records she found a quick end to their marriage. Afterwards, in 1946, she went on tour with Dizzie Gillespie’s band and fell in love with Ray Brown. They got married and adopted a son that they named Ray, Jr.
Ray worked on the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” tour under producer and manager Norman Granz. Eventually Norman convinced Ella to sign with him. Now that she joined the Philharmonic tour she was making lots of albums, working with Louis Armstrong, and started an infamous songbook series. Then she started appearing on well known shows.But with Ray and her being apart so often, they soon divorced too.
Even though Ella was a well known singer, she was still discriminated against.Sometimes she wasn’t allowed in hotels, restaurants, or clubs, just because of her skin color. After that time had passed, she started having health problems. Although, she never gave up singing. Soon, she was put in the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame and for contributing to the arts she received Kennedy Center Honors. Then, sadly, her half-sister died and she took on the responsibilities of taking care of her half-sister’s family.
Later in 1987, one of her proudest moments happened, President Ronald Reagan awarded her with the National Medal of Arts and several Universities and countries followed.
In 1986, Ella survived heart surgery and was diagnosed with diabetes. The diabetes caused her eyesight to weaken. She was told to take a rest and stop singing. But,did she? No.
She proved those people wrong.Would the woman who sold over 200 albums and won 13 Grammys quit? No.
Then, as her diabetes worsened, she had circulation problems and the doctors were forced to amputate both legs below her knees. Ella never fully recovered, but that didn’t stop her from performing or spending time with her family. Soon after these times she enjoyed, she passed.
To this day we remember her as the “First Lady of Song”. I remember her as the woman who was not afraid to sing because of her race and a woman who kept her dream going, even at the point where we would be giving up.