About Ella Fitzgerald
Ella was born on April 25, 1917 and lived with her mother throughout most of her childhood. When she was in her early teens, her mother died of injuries sustained in a car accident and shortly after that her stepfather died from heart failure. After this she was sent to go live with her aunt. She was unhappy with living there and she began skipping school. She got a job as a runner for local gamblers and was later arrested for this. She spent some time in jail and then was sent to a reform school after she was released. When she was about fifteen, she broke out of the reform school because she couldn’t bear living there anymore. At this point it was the middle of the Great Depression and she was broke and homeless. In 1934, her name was pulled in a drawing to compete at “amateur night” at a local club. She originally wanted to dance but instead decided to sing last minute. After she realized that people loved to hear her voice, she began singing at every public opportunity she could find. Eventually she was discovered at a club by Chick Webb, a bandleader who saw potential in her. He reformed his entire band to center around Ella, and this is when her career began to take off.
Her Vocal Style
Ella’s vocal style is very light and girlish. She had a four octave range and was very good at vocal improvisation and scatting. She also had excellent breath support so her voice did have power behind it. Her normal singing voice had a very pure quality to it, but she would also shift her voice, and scream sometimes when singing as well. She also used a technique which is now called “glottal compression” which is where the air supported by the diaphragm is compressed in the vocal cords with the soft palate in the back of the mouth raised, maximizing air flow. Because the air is being compressed in a controlled way, it is a good way to deliver harsh vocals in a safer way. This is a technique used for screaming and growling in today’s music. Ella was one of the first well known female vocalists to start using this technique. Her singing style has been described as performing “vocal acrobatics.” Below is a quote from her explaining her style.
“A lot of singers think all they have to do is exercise their tonsils to get ahead. They refuse to look for new ideas and new outlets, so they fall by the wayside… I’m going to try to find out the new ideas before the others do.”
Her First Recording
Ella’s first ever recording with Chick Webb as band leader was “Love and Kisses” and it was produced by the Decca Record Label.
I noticed with her first song, there is only singing and none of the more adventurous styles she uses.
Her Big Break
The song that really put her in the spotlight was a cover of a nursery rhyme called “A-Tisket-A-Tasket.”
This song demonstrated more of her range than the first one.
With Louis Armstrong
Here is a song that she performed with Louis Armstrong called “Learnin’ the Blues.”
In this song, her lower register is showcased.
Ella Fitzgerald lived a full and happy life and even continued to perform in her mid seventies. Her last performance was at Carnegie Hall in 1991, making that her twenty sixth time playing there. By then, she had recorded over 200 albums and had created a legacy. She was known for her extremely positive attitude despite all of the loss she had experienced as a child.
“I guess what everyone wants more than anything else is to be loved. And to know that you loved me for my singing is too much for me. Forgive me if I don’t have all the words. Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.”
“The Official Website of Ella Fitzgerald.” The Official Website of Ella Fitzgerald. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.
“Jazz: Essential Listening Paperback – December 22, 2010.” Jazz: Essential Listening: Scott DeVeaux, Gary Giddins: 9780393935639: Amazon.com: Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.