A treasured icon of American music, Ella Fitzgerald is a legendary figure in jazz history. Her illustrious career spanned six decades and earned her 13 Grammy awards, a National Medal of Arts awarded by President Ronald Reagan, and many other honors. She became one of America’s most beloved performers and sold millions of albums. Fitzgerald was a pioneer in female band leadership, a jubilant entertainer who defied expectations of musical Blackness, and an acclaimed artist who infused the Great American Songbook with a jazz vocal aesthetic. In this comprehensive, deeply researched biography Judith Tick presents the life of a woman whose talents and achievements are indelibly stamped on America’s culture.
The effervescent Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born and raised in Yonkers, New York City, the granddaughter of a former slave. Despite being the only African American in her family, she was not deterred from making a name for herself in the world of entertainment. At the age of seventeen she entered an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater and made her professional debut with Chick Webb’s orchestra. By 1935 she had found a regular gig at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom and began recording for Decca Records, including the hit “Love and Kisses” and the novelty ditty “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” In 1955, producer Norman Granz signed her to his Verve label in a major move that would change her fortunes.
For the first time in her career, Fitzgerald was given a chance to record complete songbooks with the finest musicians of the day such as Bud Shank, Barney Kessel, Buddy Johnson, and Maynard Ferguson. The result was a series of enduring recordings that showcased her uncanny interpretative skills. Her command of songs by composers such as Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, and George Gershwin was a remarkable feat of artistic accomplishment.