10 Important Ella Fitzgerald Facts You Need To Know
By Taylor Fields
February 3, 2019
Ella Fitzgerald is an icon. Named "The First Lady of Song" (and rightfully so), Ella is not only an important figure in music, but in history. Over the course of her career, she has accomplished so much, and helped set the stage for many of today's superstars.
From working with jazz legends like Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole, to performing at the most prestigious concert venues around the world, and overcoming discrimination, Ella left behind such an exceptional and important legacy.
In 2017, the world celebrated what would have been Ella's centennial birthday. Ella would have been just over 100 years old today, but we continue to celebrate her impact on music and beyond for the next 100 years to come and so on, especially during this month, Black Music Month. So, here are 10 important facts that you need to know about "The First Lady of Song":
1. She was the first African-American woman to win multiple Grammy Awards.
Ella was the first African-American woman to win multiple Grammy Awards -- and it happened at the very first Grammy Awards ceremony in 1958. Ella took home two awards for Best Vocal Performance and Female and Best Jazz Performance, Individual. In total, over the course of her career, Ella has won 14 Grammys, and was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967.
2. She became one of the first stars to perform during the Super Bowl Half Time Show.
As we are heading into the 2019 Super Bowl, and you think about the star power behind each halftime performance over the last 20+ years, it wasn't always like that. It wasn't until Michael Jackson's 1993 performance that halftime became the star-studded affair it is today. BUT, in 1972, Ella Fitzgerald, along with Carol Channing, performed during Super Bowl VI where the Miami Dolphins faced off against the Dallas Cowboys in New Orleans. They performed a tribute to Louis Armstrong (who had passed away the year before). This also made Fitzgerald the first African-American woman to perform during Super Bowl Halftime.
3. She was once a runner for local gamblers.
After moving to New York, to help contribute money to the household, she took on some small jobs, even running for local gamblers. She picked up their bets and dropped off money.
4. Her first on stage performance was at the Apollo during Amateur Night.
Ella's name was pulled out of the weekly drawing at the Apollo, and she competed during Amateur Night -- not a bad way to perform on stage for the first time! And, fun fact, she was actually planning only to dance that night, but changed her mind when she saw the Edwards Sisters at the show. According to Ella's website, she said, "They were the dancingest sisters around." Ella ended up singing Hoagy Carmichael's "Judy" -- after which the audience wanted an encore.
5. One of her most famous songs came from a nursery rhyme.
Ella made her first recording, "Love and Kisses," in 1936. However, perhaps what is her most famous song, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," is simply a playful version of the nursery rhyme. The 1938 song skyrocketed Ella's career hitting number one, selling 1 million copies, and stayed on the pop charts for 17 weeks.
6. Facing discrimination, Ella's band was once arrested backstage in Dallas.
While touring for the Philharmonic in Dallas, Texas, police arrested band members in Ella's dressing room where they were shooting dice. Ella's manager Norman felt strongly about civil rights and the police were not a fan of his principles. According to Ella's website, she said of the incident, "They took us down, and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph."
7. Marilyn Monroe helped her to get booked at popular '50s nightclub Mocambo.
Marilyn Monroe personally called the owner of Mocambo and demanded Ella be booked right away. Ella has said, "I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt. 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. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times. And she didn't know it."
8. She became the first black woman to headline the famous Copacabana nightclub.
Speaking of popular nightclubs, the Copacabana is one of the most famous, located in midtown Manhattan, and Ella became the first black woman to headline the venue.
9. Her final performance was at New York City's famed Carnegie Hall.
In 1991, Ella performed her final concert at one of New York's most prestigious concert venues, Carnegie Hall, making it the 26th time she had performed there.
10. She has been dubbed "The First Lady of Song.
"By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums. And with 14 Grammy Awards under her belt, selling over 40 million albums, she is more than worthy of the title, "First Lady of Song."
Celebrate Ella Fitzgerald by checking out her music via the Thumbs Up: Ella Fitzgerald playlist on iHeartRadio.
Photos: Getty Images