Ella Fitzgerald made her singing debut at the Harlem Apollo Theater amateur
night in New York City in 1934. Her singing caught the attention of Chick
Webb who conducted the Chick Webb Savoy Swing Orchestra. Chick took her
on as his first female singer.
She was born in Newport News, Virginia in 1917. At age 15 she was placed in
the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale. She was later transferred to the
New York State Training School for Girls, where there was wide-spread
physical abuse. She ran away and was living on the streets of Harlem when she
was discovered by Webb.
She married twice, first at 24 to Benjamin Kornegay and then at 30 to bass player Ray Brown. Both marriages ended in divorce. She also was diabetic. The disease compromised her vision, her circulatory system (both of her legs were amputated below the knee due to the disease) and eventually led to her death at the age of 79.
Her career spanned six decades and she achieved legendary success. She received
awards including a Kennedy Center Award for her contributions to the
performing arts, honorary doctorate degrees from Dartmouth and Yale, and
thirteen Grammy Awards.
Despite little formal training, Ella had a three octave vocal range, textbook
perfect technique, and an improvisational talent on par with that of the best jazz instrumentalists. She was known for her spontaneous, often pyrotechnic scat vocalizations.