Featured Musician: Ella Fitzgerald

Celebrating 100 years of the First Lady of Song

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Who is Ella Fitzgerald?

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) was one of the greatest American singers in any genre of music.  She had a warm and lovely voice, superb rhythmic sense, considerable versatility, a great range (three and a half octaves), meticulous intonation, and improvisatory gifts as a fine natural melodist.  With an unparalleled ability for mimicry and “scat” singing, Fitzgerald also produced melodic lines that put her in the category of great instrumental improvisers.  Known as a singer’s singer, she recorded some two thousand songs in her lifetime.

The Ella Fitzgerald Collection, including the Ella Fitzgerald Papers, was donated in 1996 to the National Museum of American History, which has led to a rich amount of resources available for jazz scholars, teachers, students and fans. See below blogs, collections items, teaching resources, and related programs and displays at the museum.


Blogs on Ella Fitzgerald


Museum collections featuring Ella Fitzgerald

In addition to the Ella Fitzgerald Collection, which was donated in 1996 to the National Museum of American History by the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, there are objects and archival material from other collections in the museum that also feature the First Lady of Song, including The Herman Leonard Photographs Collection, the Frank Schiffman Apollo Theatre Collection, and more. See digitized collection items here.


Teacher Resources: Ella's Singing Class

Singer Ella Fitzgerald became known as "The First Lady of Song." She won over fans of jazz and popular song. Explore her music and singing techniques in "Ella's Singing Class."

  • Ella's Singing Class
    Complete five stories that explore lessons about jazz including: the alto saxophone, instruments, chorus and repeat, mood in music, music for television.


Explore Ella Fitzgerald at the Museum

Display: First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100
On view starting April 1
Archives Center, 1 West

One of America’s most accomplished singers, Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996) was an American artist who set a new standard for jazz vocalists. She sang her way to the top of a field dominated and controlled almost completely by men. See awards, letters, sheet music and costumes from her archives as well as videos of her performances.


Performance: Women in Jazz – The Influence of Ella Fitzgerald, Mary Lou Williams, and Lil Hardin Armstrong
Friday, March 31, 7:30 p.m.
Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza, 1 West
Tickets required: http://s.si.edu/2kHmENz

Oftentimes overlooked, women have been making vital contributions to jazz throughout its history. Beyond the traditional female vocalist, there are also many great female composers, arrangers, orchestrators, and instrumentalists who have contributed to the music form. Join the museum's Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra for a special evening that will begin with three jazz icons—Ella Fitzgerald, Mary Lou Williams, and Lil Hardin Armstrong—to explore their lasting influence and other women in jazz through modern day. The evening will also include a special viewing of the museum’s new display, First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100, to celebrate Ella’s centennial.

>> See the full calendar of JAM programs at the Museum.

Jazz Appreciation Month is made possible through generous support from:

The LeRoy Neiman Foundation

The Argus Fund

The Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation

Goldman Sachs

The John Hammond Performance Endowment Fund