Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Saturday, November 11, 2006


It’s hard to believe that the Ella Fitzgerald we know today, the curvaceous commander of the stage, started out as an extremely poor, shy, skinny-as-a-rail little girl in New York. Ella was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News City, New York to common law parents Tempie Williams Fitzgerald and William Fitzgerald. When William left, Tempie relocated to the home of Joseph Di Silva, Tempie’s Portuguese lover. The new couple gave Ella a half-sister Frances, who remained one of Ella’s closest and enduring relationships until Frances’ death in the 1960’s.
After a couple more moves around the city, Ella went to school as a quiet but ambitious girl longing to make it big. She used dancing and music to cope with the struggles she encountered. The two helped her to remain optimistic. She started dancing around the third grade and was so passionate about it that friends thought she would pursue it later on in life. She would even dance by herself out in the school yard, associating dance with the new music style of the age, big band jazz. She started singing in a local gospel choir, where it was discovered she possessed the musical gift of relative pitch. She used imitation to learn about voice projection, intonation, simple harmony, and rhythmic phrasing, a key component in jazz singing.
With the ability to listen to recorded music with the use of the radio and phonograph, Ella first hear Louis Armstrong; she was immediately attracted to his voice and style. He was her first major musical influence and continued to be one throughout her career. She got her first taste of singing for an audience when she was picked to perform at an amateur show at the Apollo in 1934. She had the intention of dancing but when she had to follow the Edward Sisters, the best dancers of the area, she froze in front of the notoriously tough Apollo crowd. The master of ceremonies asked her if she would like to sing a song instead. The audience agreed with the idea and after some encouragement, she sang Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy”. The audience loved it so much she was even asked to sing an encore and she walked away the winner of the night with a cash prize of $25. She would have never looked into a career as a vocalist if it was not for this contest. It truly was the turning point in her life. She began singing in amateur contests all around the city and always came out the winner. Ella used “Judy,” “Believe It Beloved”and“The Object of My Affection” as her winning repertoire. As a teen she won a profession booking as a prize: a week at the Harlem Opera House with the Tiny Bradshaw band for $50. She also got her first press mention in the New York Age at this time, being referred to as Opera House appearance in January 1935. It was at the end of this week long prize that Ella first met with who would soon become her colleague, drummer Chick Webb. Little did Ella know that this would be the jumpstart for her career…

Fidelman, Geoffrey Mark. "First Lady of Song:Ellas Fitzgerald for the Record." New York, NY:A Birch Lane Press Book,1994.

Nicholson, Stuart. "Ella Fitzgerald." New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1994.


At 11/12/2006 6:53 PM, Blogger Godfather Outlaw said...

Did you know Ella Fitzgerald was married to Ray Brown!? Not for very long, 4-5yrs., but i happened fo sho.

At 11/12/2006 7:59 PM, Blogger Mistuh Bond said...

There needs to be more paragraph separations. But good otherwise.

At 11/12/2006 9:24 PM, Blogger Emily Rose said...

I liked what you picked to talk about. I didn't know anything about her, so I liked what I learned!

At 11/12/2006 10:31 PM, Blogger Nat said...

I agree with Emily. However, I don't think you should have ended it that way....she didn't know it would jumpstart her career, so it should just be a statement.

At 11/12/2006 11:09 PM, Blogger Becca said...

It's interesting to see the little events in a performer's life that change their career - I loved the anecdotes about the competitions! Nice work.


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