Ella Fitzgerald

The First Lady of Song

The Apollo


Ella Fitzgerald's Grammy-Significance of the Time

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Hard Times 

Honoring a Legend with a Stamp 

A Tisket a Tasket

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Kaye, J

The First Lady of Song

Ella Fitzgerald was a phenomenal artist as we can see by her 50 year musical career. Fitzgerald was the leading female artist gaining the title “First Lady of Song.” Fitzgerald collaborated with many of the greats, including Ellington, Basie, Armstrong, Sinatra and many others. Fitzgerald was most influential on the career of Chick Webb. During her time Fitzgerald was one of the most successful female jazz artist as can be shown through her awards and the albums she produced over time. The title given to her was well deserved. Proving herself was no challenge for Fitzgerald, it rather came naturally. She was just full of love and made connections with both artist and fans the same.

It cannot be said that many women from jazz are partially responsible for the greatest success in a male jazz artist career. That is indeed the situation in the partnership of Fitzgerald and Webb. The only number one single Webb had was in his collaboration with Fitzgerald in the production of “A Tisket a Tasket.” Fitzgerald had an idea to turn the school aged nursery into a jazz selection, leading to great success for her and Webb as it quickly became number one in 1938 (Redsugar). Fitzgerald was known from this success to be an extraordinary artist.

Chick Webb was born February 10, 1909 in Baltimore, known for his marvelous skills on the percussion. Webb was a very unique man. Despite his fight with congenital tuberculosis of the spine [he] became, “one of the most competitive drummers and bandleaders of the big band era.” He sat perched high upon a platform,…used custom made pedals, goose neck cymbal holders, a 28 inch bass drum and a wide variety of other percussion instruments to create thundering solos of a complexity and energy that paved the way for [others like] Buddy Rich, who studied Webb intensely ("Chick"). Webb was so great at playing the drums one would be astonished to know that Webb was unable to read music ("Chick"). Webb’s talents were too great to be captured by the technology of his time. Though he was one of the greatest of his time on stage he did not have a long lasting success. Webb and Fitzgerald formed a long lasting bond, “he played a father figure in her life,” (Ella).This is quite surprisingly since in the beginning he was reluctant to work with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was introduced to Webb through a showman of his band, Webb had already hired a male artist for his band but told Fitzgerald, “…we’re playing Yale tomorrow. Get on the band bus and if they like you there, you’ve got the job.” She was hired and the two worked together up until Webb’s death in 1939.

Fitzgerald was one of the best female artist of her time. Even when compared to big name artist such as Billie Holiday. Holiday began life on a shaky start and never found a way to straighten it out, meddling in things such as drugs and prostitution. Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan Gough on April 7, 1915 in a place that is not exactly known. Some sources say Baltimore and others say Philadelphia. Being that Holiday was born during pre-civil rights times and abused drugs, therefore making her testimony of her own life sketchy, sources have a difficulty re-telling the tall tale of Holidays life (Auburn). Holiday was born to a set of not so stable parents. Her mother Sadie Gough was only thirteen years old at the time of Holiday’s birth, too young to care for herself so one can only think how difficult it was to care for a child during this time. Her father Clarence Holiday was a “teenaged jazz guitarist” who abandoned his family for his career, Holiday later punished him by hiring nearly every top guitarist in New York at one time or another except for “hapless Clarence,” who died in 1937 (Auburn). At age 10 Holiday was raped by a neighbor which led her to being sent to a Catholic school for girls, at age 13 after being she had resorted to “turning tricks,” (prostitution) as a source of income and was soon arrested for her illegal doings (Auburn).

By 1930 she had began to pursue her career as an artist first looking to dance but lucking out with her beautiful voice and talent. Holiday was tagged “Lady Day” for her work in the music industry. Holiday’s career was on and off, her manager would find her work when he could, and she would use drugs when she was not performing and even when she was. She was great as an artist but had a habit she just couldn’t break which would ultimately take her life and end her career. In 1959 Holiday collapsed in her apartment and was taken into hospital care, while in the hospital she was arrested for narcotics in her room after a raid, five days later Holiday died of cirrhosis of the liver on July 17, 1959. She died with 70 cent in her bank account and 750 dollar an advance on negotiations to write her life story, reportedly taped to her leg (Auburn).

Fitzgerald unlike Holiday never meddled with the negative side of Hollywood life dealing with things such as drugs. Holiday was focused on her career and worked steadily throughout her 50 years. Fitzgerald like Holiday began at a young age. Similarly Fitzgerald had lost her mother before her career had begun but for years she entertained those around her with her singing and dancing, finally at the age of 16 she appeared and won on the stage of the Apollo in Harlem. After this performance her career began to take off. Throughout her career Fitzgerald won 13 Grammys and number of the awards including a variety of Lifetime Achievement awards ("Ella").

Fitzgerald’s career became more successful than that of Holiday when you compare things such as length of years and steady work, number of awards and hit singles and even albums. As her fame began to rise Fitzgerald picked up devoted fans like Marilyn Monroe who would help her fight battles against civil rights discrimination because her voice drew them in so much that they couldn’t deny that she had a talent that should be heard by many, for these reason Monroe negotiated with a white club owner to allow Fitzgerald to play in his club and in return Monroe promised herself to be right there in the front row of the club everyday of Fitzgerald’s performance ("Ella"). Fitzgerald’s devotion and passion allowed her to gain the success one looks for in a career. She was able to perform in and out the country knowing that there would be another performance and knowing that her fans loved her. She had no negative substances such as drugs to take her voice and dedication for her career such as what happens to Holiday. Fitzgerald fought through the hard times of her life for what she wanted allowing herself to set records such as being the first woman, along with the first woman of color to receive a Grammy ("Ella"). The hard work and strive Fitzgerald had for her career is what gives her the title “First Lady of Song” a title that has proved to be justified by the career of Fitzgerald.

As a woman during the civil rights times Fitzgerald made a name for herself as an artist working with greats such as Ellington, Armstrong, Basie, and Sinatra just to name a few. Teaming up with Webb she strengthened the both of their careers with her idea to change a school aged nursery into a gratifying jazz piece. Winning awards in all categories one can think of with album after album for years Fitzgerald proved to be on top as far as a jazz female artist. Overcoming the careers of other big name female jazz artist including the great Billie Holiday later tagged “Lady Day,” with a career almost doubling that of Holiday’s and much more success as far as albums and number of performances. Fitzgerald was focused and ready and this is why she deserved and earned the title “The First Lady of Song.”



Works Cited

Auburn, James. Billie Holiday: The Lady who Sang and Lived the Blues. 2 April 2007.


Chick Webb. 31 March 2007. http://www.angelfire.com/mac.keepitlive/drummers/Webb/webb.htm

Ella Fitzgerald: The First Lady of Song. 1997. 31 March 2007. <www.ellafitzgerald.com/>.

Redsugar’s Ella Fitzgerald Page. 1997. 31 March 2007. <www.redsugar.com/ella.html>.



































Kaye, Je