Breaking Through

Ella Fitzgerald was discovered at an amateur night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and invited to try out for bandleader Chick Webb. He was impressed by her technical and creative talents and hired her to sing with his orchestra. When Webb died in 1939, the 22-year-old singer took over the orchestra, becoming one of the first woman musicians to lead her own band. As her experience and skill grew, so did her fame and popularity. 


Fitzgerald is pictured here with her orchestra.  

Duncan P. Schiedt Photograph Collection.

Sheet music

A-Tisket, A-Tasket, co-written by Fitzgerald, was her first hit record. This sheet-music edition was intended for amateur and professional musicians.  

Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music.

78 rpm record

Fitzgerald’s first hit recording was A Tisket, A-Tasket.

Gift of Hannah L. Cayton in memory of Howard Cayton.

Sheet music

I Found My Yellow Basket was an “answer song” to A-Tisket, A-Tasket, whose lyrics include the line “I lost my yellow basket.”

Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music.

Transcription disc

Fitzgerald starred in her own radio program.  This 78-rpm transcription disc recorded a live performance from the Savoy Ballroom, in New York, on January 22, 1940.

Booking cards

The management of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater kept booking cards that detailed Fitzgerald’s appearances during a seven-year period.

Frank Schiffman Apollo Theater Collection

around 1948

Fitzgerald and her trio are pictured here performing at New York City’s Club Downbeat.

Herman Leonard Collection.