Ella Fitzgerald Photography

Ella Fitzgerald

After a troubled childhood, 16-year-old Ella Fitzgerald got her big break in 1934, winning an amateur contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. The following year she joined the Chick Webb Orchestra and recorded her first hit, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” with them in 1938. These were the first steps of her journey towards becoming recognized as the “First Lady of Song”—one of the most celebrated and best-selling female jazz singers of all time.

Fitzgerald began her solo career in the mid ’40s and performed with many legends, including Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong. From 1956 to 1964, she recorded a landmark eight-volume “songbook” series for Verve Records, considered some of the finest interpretations of the “Great American Songbook.”

The “Queen of Jazz” made history as the first African-American woman to win a Grammy—she eventually scored 14. Some of her other honors include the National Medal of Arts, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Singers—named “Ella” in her honor. She passed away at her Beverly Hills home in 1996.

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