- Ella was born in 1917. She grew up in Yonkers, New York in a busy, vibrant neighborhood. She liked to play baseball with the other kids, listen to music, and dance and sing.
- Her stepfather, Joe, was a chauffeur and ditch digger. Her mother, Tempie, worked at a laundromat and catered food. To make a little money, Ella sometimes delivered money for gambling operations in the area.
- Tempie died in 1932 after she was in a serious car accident. Ella was devastated. She went to live with her Aunt Virginia. Joe died of a heart attack not long after and Ella’s little sister Frances joined her.
- Ella missed her mother terribly. She started skipping school and getting into trouble. Eventually she was arrested by the police and sent to reform school. The people who ran the school were very unkind and sometimes beat her.
- When she was just 15 years old, she ran away from the school and lived on her own. She later said that this experience made her grateful for her singing success.
- When she was 17, her name was pulled in a drawing at the Apollo Theater in New York. She got to perform one number for amateur night. She thought she would dance, but another group was so good at dancing that she decided to sing instead.
- When it was her turn, she looked out at the audience nervously. People booed at her. She took a deep breath and started singing one of her favorite songs. The booing stopped and by the time she was done, the audience cheered and asked for one more song.
- Benny Carter, a saxophonist, was there that night. He liked her voice and began introducing her to other people in the music business. Ella entered every talent show she could find. Chick Webb offered her a job singing with his band at a rate of $12.50 per week.
- In 1931, Ella’s song, “A Tisket, A Tasket,” hit number one on the pop charts and sold over a million copies. Ella was on her way!
- When Chick Webb died unexpectedly, the band changed its name to Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Band. Ella was the bandleader.
- Ella married Ray Brown in 1946 and the couple adopted a son.
- Ella’s career soared. She sold records, toured the country, and appeared on many television shows.
- Ella made over 200 records during her life. She was one of the most loved singers of all time. Ronald Reagan gave her the National Medal of Arts. She won many other awards and recognitions.
- Amateur: someone who is not a professional
- Chauffeur: someone who drives others for a profession
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Did Ella have any other children?
Answer: No. However, she was very interested in helping impoverished children and gave thousands of dollars to that cause. She also cared for Frances’s family after her death.
Watch a brilliant song from Ella.