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Ella Fitzgerald, one of America’s greatest jazz singers, was born in Newport News, Virginia on this date in 1917. She was already a star of the jazz scene in Harlem, with a Decca Records contract, a hit song (“A-Tisket, A-Tasket”), and a Jewish manager, Milt Gabler, when she was introduced to the jazz impresario Norman Granz in the late 1940s. Granz, in turn, became her manager and built Verve Records upon the foundation of her remarkably clear and fluid voice. It was Granz who helped turn Fitzgerald away from scat-singing and be-bop to the Great American Songbook, and built her into an international star through her collaborations with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Bill Kenny and the Ink Spots, Joe Pass, and other jazz greats. Fitzgerald was the recipient of fourteen Grammy Awards, a National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For more about Norman Granz and his anti-racist activism, click here. To see Fitzgerald singing Gershwin’s “Summertime” in 1968, look below.
“I had gotten to the point where I was only singing be-bop. I thought be-bop was ‘it,’ and that all I had to do was go some place and sing bop. But it finally got to the point where I had no place to sing. I realized then that there was more to music than bop. Norman... felt that I should do other things, so he produced The Cole Porter Songbook with me. It was a turning point in my life.” —Ella Fitzgerald