Singer Ella Fitzgerald: a snapshot biography

“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” – Ella Fitzgerald

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 Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald

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.

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.”

Ella Fitzgerald portrait, 1947
Ella Fitzgerald, 1947


Gottlieb, William P. Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, New York, N.Y., ca. 1946, Monographic. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <> / Quotes: 


Click here to read a snapshot biography of another singer, Billie Holiday.

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