Thursday, February 12, 2015

Famous Black Firsts: Grammy Award Winner Ella Fitzgerald

Born on April 25th, 1917 Ella Fitzgerald was the first Black female to win a Grammy Award, two of them the first year it was even a thing to win. Within the 60 years that she spent recording music she won a total of 13 Grammy's and sold 40 million copies of over 70 albums. She was born in Newport News, Virginia to unmarried parents that separated within a year of her being born. Her mother got with another guy and they moved to New York as part of the Great Migration. At the age of 6 Ella began attending school. As a child she loved dancing and would perform for her family and students in school. After the death of her mother while Ella was still a teen, her grades dropped in school and she began ditching. 

After leaving home due to her abusive stepfather she worked as a look out at a brothel. After police found her she was placed in an orphanage and then a reformatory for girls. He eventually escaped and began singing at the age of 17, making her debut at the Apollo Theater. She was going to dance during Amateur Night but decided to sing after being intimated by a local dancing duo. She won the first prize of a whopping $25. That was a lot back then. She was discovered singing for pennies by someone in the industry and his manager was reluctant to bring in a homeless teen singer until he heard her sing. Ella performed with Benny Goodman and his orchestra even after his death as well as having her own side projects. In 1942 she debuted in a Abbott & Costello movie Ride 'Em Cowboy. Due to her undeniable talent, by the 1950's and 60's she was dubbed The First Lady Of Song. I had heard of Ella growing up from various sources and when listening to some of her songs I totally recognized her voice and even imitations of it from old cartoons I watched growing up. She passed away in 1996 after a series of debilitating illnesses at home.

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