Ella Fitzgerald was shy, 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. When Ella was fifteen, her mother passed away, leaving Ella’s stepfather to care for her. But he neglected and abused Ella before he too soon passed away.
Ella struggled for a few years after. She dropped out of school, was arrested, sent to reform school, where there too, she was abused. She ran away from the school, living anywhere she could find shelter in Harlem. But after singing on the streets of Harlem and then winning some singing competitions, she was invited to join a band. And from there, life changed; her singing career took off.
As her career blossomed, Ella also received much help along the way. One such person was Marilyn Monroe. “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Ella would say. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again.”
Amongst her many career accomplishments, Ella would win thirteen Grammy Awards along with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. 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.”
“A snapshot biography of singer Ella Fitzgerald” sources: Gottlieb, William P. Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, New York, N.Y., ca. 1946, Monographic. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/gottlieb.02871/> / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_Fitzgerald