April 25, 1917 Ella Jane Fitzgerald, jazz and pop vocalist also known as the “First Lady of Song,” was born in Newport News, Virginia.
Fitzgerald made her singing debut at the age of 17 at the Apollo Theater and won the first prize of $25.00. In 1935, she began singing with the Chick Webb Orchestra and recorded several hits with them, including “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (1938). In 1942, Fitzgerald left the band to start a solo career. Her 1945 scat recording of “Flying Home” was considered one of the most influential vocal jazz recordings of the decade.
Between 1956 and 1964, Fitzgerald recorded eight multi-album sets that became known as the Great American Songbook and were her most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work. Plagued by health problems, Fitzgerald made her last recording in 1991 and her last public performance in 1993. She died June 15, 1996. Over her career, Fitzgerald sold more than 40 million albums and won 14 Grammy awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967.
Other major honors include the Kennedy Center Honors Award (1979), induction in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame (1979), designation as a NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts (1985), the National Medal of Art (1987), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President George H. W. Bush in 1992. In 2007 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor.