Ella Fitzgerald (with Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, and Milt Jackson)
@ National Portrait Gallery
DescriptionHailed as the “First Lady of Song,” Fitzgerald topped DownBeat magazine’s annual readers’ poll as the best female vocalist for seventeen consecutive years (1953–70). She was just a teenager when her victory in an amateur contest at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater led to the opportunity to sing with Chick Webb’s orchestra in 1935. Fitzgerald soon secured her standing as a leading swing-era performer and scored a major hit with “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (1938). After Webb’s death in 1939, she led his orchestra for three years before launching a highly successful solo career. With a supple voice that spanned three octaves, as well as an immense talent for improvisational “scat” singing, Fitzgerald built a wide-ranging repertoire encompassing jazz and popular song. Her long and fruitful association with jazz impresario Norman Granz resulted in the legendary series of “songbook” recordings that marked Fitzgerald as one of the greatest interpreters of American popular music.
Gelatin Silver Print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Lisa Ruthel and Anup Mahurkar