Ella Fitzgerald

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The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation

We would like to especially thank the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation for their substantial financial support. This foundation was formed to support charities and causes that Ella championed over the years, one of which was blindness prevention and treatment.

Born in Virginia and raised in New York, Fitzgerald began her professional career at the age of 16. She intended to dance at amateur night at the Harlem Opera House, but she lost her nerve when she got on stage.

“The man said, ‘do something while you’re out there,’ the singer later recalled. “So I tried to sing ‘Object of My Affection’ and ‘Judy,’ and I won first prize.”

For the victory, Fitzgerald took home $25, and soon signed with Chick Webb and his band, shooting to fame in 1938 with “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

While jamming with Dizzy Gillespie, the singer was encouraged to improvise.

“I just tried to do what I heard the horns in the band doing,” she said — and playing with words and musical notes, “scat” singing became her signature.

Over the years, Fitzgerald won dozens of awards. She dominated the early Grammy ceremonies, winning best female vocal performance three years in a row. In all, she won 13 Grammy awards — more than any other jazz musician.

But she maintained always an aura of graciousness — she was at a loss for words when the Society of Singers named an award after her.

“I don’t want to say the wrong thing, which I always do,” she said. “I think I do better when I sing.”

Friends did the talking for her at her many tributes.

“Women like Ella make you feel things that you didn’t know were missing in your life,” said singer Melissa Manchester.

In her later years, diabetes took a toll on Fitzgerald’s life. In 1993, her vision deteriorated and her legs were amputated as a result of the disease. But recent compilations of her work on compact discs have introduced her trademark sound to a whole new generation of listeners.

Thank you, Ella.  Your kind spirit lives on in your music and the work of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this biography.