The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917. She spent her childhood in Yonkers, New York and turned to singing in 1934. Ella's first job was as a lookout for a brothel and a messenger running numbers. She wanted to be a dancer to escape her terrible childhood. She was the top lady jazz singer for over 50 years. He voice with a huge range, lucid intonation and strong quality won her thirteen Grammies and sold over 40 million albums.
Her career was set in motion in 1934 after she won first place at Harlem's Apollo Theater singing contest. She joined Chick Webb and his group as a singer. Fitzgerald wrote her first #1 hit in 1938 A Tisket A-Tasket. Later she recorded I Found My Yellow Basket.
Fitzgerald performed with Benny Goodman and his orchestra. She also sang with Ella Fitzgerald and Her Savoy Eight. When Webb died, Ella took over the band. In 1940 Fitzgerald made her film debut in Ride "Em Cowboy with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. In 1946 Fitzgerald worked with Norman Granz who orchestrated the Jazz at the Philharmonic. About the same time Fitzgerald toured with Dizzy Gillespie and she changed her singing style. She wed Ray Brown Gillespie's bass play in 1947 and they adopted a son. They divorced in 1952.
She was a commercial success in the 1950s and 1960s. She was known for her vocal talents and her ability to mimic instrumental sounds or "scatting". In 1955 Fitzgerald recorded for Verve Records and chronicled Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book (1956). She gained an Emmy for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book and Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irvin Berlin Song Book. She performed with Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Frank Sinatra. She broke into pop charts with her song Mack the Knife.
In 1986 Fitzgerald had heart surgery and discovered she was diabetic. Diabetes left her blind and both legs were amputated in 1994. Her last recording was made in 1989 and her last performance in 1991. She died on June 15, 1996 in Beverly Hills. Fitzgerald recorded more than 200 albums and over 2000 singles. She was awarded the NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.