Friday 5 April 2024


Ella Fitzgerald was sensitive, sincere, shy, and modest. And she loved to dance. But most of all, she loved to sing. "The only thing better than singing is more singing," she would say.

Ella was born in Newport News, Virginia, in 1917 to unmarried parents who separated about two years after her birth. She grew up without her birth father, as her mother married another man and moved to Yonkers, New York.

While her family didn't have much wealth, Ella spoke positively of her childhood. "We had love and we had hope," she said. And from her mother, Ella had a number of life lessons, including the importance of humility.

But when Ella was fifteen, her mother passed away. The period after her mother's passing was of much struggle for Ella. She dropped out of school, was arrested, and sent to reform school, where there, too, she was abused. She ran away from the school, living anywhere she could find shelter in Harlem.

Then, by chance, life took a shift. After drawing straws in a dare with friends to take the stage at an amateur show, Ella picked the short straw. She was going to dance.

The amateur competition was at the Apollo. As Ella waited to take the stage, she watched the act before hers, which was a dance performance. That group finished with loud applause from the audience. Ella, already nervous to perform, felt even more anxiety. "My legs turned to water and a million butterflies played tag in my stomach. They had to shove me onstage, and when I looked where I thought the audience should be, all I saw was a big blur." Unable to move her body, Ella changed her performance to another talent and joy: singing. As she began to sing, people in the audience began smiling.

Ella won that competition. "The turning point of my life. Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from the audience - I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life," Ella said.

By 17, Ella's singing career was beginning to flourish. Soon, she was a star, and then she became a jazz legend. Among her many career accomplishments, Ella sold over 40 million albums and won thirteen Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a National Medal of Honor. But more than the awards, she was beloved by fans and other artists. A fellow singer remarked about Ella, "She was the best. She was the best there ever was."

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