Black History Fact of the Week: Ella Fitzgerald
OW Staff Writer | 4/20/2011, 5:19 p.m.
On April 25, 1917, the world received a young singer who would become known as the first lady of song--Ella Fitzgerald. She was born to a couple in Newport News, Va., who parted ways shortly after her birth. Ella was considered a tomboy in her early years in New York, where she and her mother moved, but she made friends easily and was often seen playing with the local boys in neighborhood games like baseball.
To help with finances at home, she took up odd jobs and worked as a runner for gamblers, picking up and dropping off money for bets.
Tragedy struck in 1932 when her mother died after a car accident. Fitzgerald took it hard. Shortly thereafter her mother's longtime boyfriend, Joe, died of a heart attack. The heartbroken Ella and her half-sister moved in with her mother's sister, Virginia.
This was a period in her life when things became very difficult and trouble came knocking at her door. She often skipped school and was frequently picked up by police.
At the age of 15, she ran away from home only to struggle in the streets during the Great Depression. But things started to change a few years later.
In 1934, at a weekly drawing at the Apollo Theater, her name was pulled, and she was given the opportunity to perform at the theater's Amateur Night.
Planning to dance in the competition, she changed her mind after watching the popular Edwards Sisters close the main show with a dance act she was sure would trump anything she could do.
While on stage, faced with boos and intimidating chants, she decided to sing. Her voice and style floored both the audience and the band. From that night on, her career took off. Saxophonist Benny Carter, who was in the band that night, was impressed by her natural talent and began taking her around to people who could help launch her career.
She began performing in talent competitions everywhere and singing at events. In 1936, her first single, "Love and Kisses," was released on the Decca label.
Fitzgerald went on to become one of the most noted Jazz voices in the world.
Ella died on June 15, 1996, and left a legacy of musical versatility and styling that few have been able to match.
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