Ella Fitzgerald, often called the "First Lady of Song," was one of the 20th century's most important musical performers. The collection reflects her career and personal life through photographs, audio recordings, and manuscript materials.
Scope and Contents:
The Ella Fitzgerald Papers document the performing and personal life of the "First Lady of Song." The collection contains music manuscripts, sheet music, photographs, scripts, correspondence, clippings, business records, sound recordings and video. The bulk of the materials reflect Fitzgerald's career as a singer and performer. The collection comprises materials found in Ella Fitzgerald's home at the time of her death.
The collection is organized into 10 series.
Series 1: Music Manuscripts and Sheet Music, 1919-1973
Suberies 1.1: Television Shows
Series 2: Photographs, 1939-1990
Subseries 2.1: Ella Fitzgerald Performing Alone
Subseries 2.2: Ella Fitzgerald Performing With Others
Subseries 2.3: Publicity
Subseries 2.4: Ella Fitzgerald With Family, Colleagues, and Friends
Subseries 2.5: Ella Fitzgerald Candid Photographs
Subseries 2.6: Performing Venues
Subseries 2.7: Photographs From Friends and Fans
Series 3: Scripts, 1957-1981
Series 4: Correspondence, circa 1960-1996
Series 5: Business Records, 1954-1990
Series 6: Honorary Degrees and Awards, 1960-1996
Series 7: Concert Programs and Announcements, 1957-1992, undated
Series 8: Clippings, 1949-1997
Subseries 8.1: Magazine Articles, 1949-1997
Subseries 8.2: Newspapers, circa 19650-circa 1990
Series 9: Emphemera, 1950-1996
Subseries 9.1: Album Jackets
Subseries 9.2: Miscellaneous
Series 10: Audiovisual, 1939-1995
Subseries 10.1: Sound Discs: Test Pressings, Transcription Discs, and Performer Copies
Subseries 10.2: Commercial Sound Recordings
Subseries 10.3: Demonstration Sound Discs: Other Artists
Subseries 10.4: Videotapes
Biographical / Historical:
Born in Newport News, Virginia on April 25th, 1918, Ella Fitzgerald was sent to an orphanage in Yonkers, New York at the age of six. In 1934, she was discovered as a singer in New York's famed Apollo Theater Amateur Contest. This led to a stint with drummer Chick Webb's Band, with whom she recorded her first big hit, "A -tisket A-tasket" in 1938.
After Webb died in 1939, Fitzgerald took over leadership of the band for three years, during which time they were featured on a live radio series. She then embarked upon a solo career, which included recording for Decca Records, and in 1946, she began a pivotal association with producer Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic series, which brought her a large international following.
In 1956, Fitzgerald left Decca Records to join Granz's newly formed Verve label. Among her notable Verve recordings were a series of "songbooks" featuring the work of major American composers such as Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Harold Arlen as well as classic collaborations with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Fitzgerald's toured and performed extensively and her immense popularity also led to appearances on television, in movies, and in commercials and magazine ads.
Despite increasing health problems, Fitzgerald continued to tour, perform and record into her seventies with musicians such as guitarist Joe Pass, arranger-producer Quincy Jones, and pianist Oscar Peterson. Throughout her life, Fitzgerald was active in charitable work with particular emphasis on the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the Ella Fitzgerald and Harriette E. Shields Child Care Centers.
Ella Fitzgerald was admired and honored world-wide. In addition to receiving more than a dozen Grammy awards, she was awarded numerous honorary degrees and many states and cities had commemorative Ella Fitzgerald days. Fitzgerald was a Kennedy Center honoree in 1979 and Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Club named her "Woman of the Year" in 1982.
The "First Lady of Song" died on June 17, 1996, of complications from diabetes.
Materials at the Archives Center
Benny Carter Collection, 1928-2000 (AC0757)
Charismic Productions Records of Dizzy Gillespie, 1940s-1993 (AC0979)
Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program Collection, 1992-2012 (AC0808)
Milt Gabler Papers, 1927-2001 (AC0849)
Tad Hershorn Collection, 1956-1991 (AC0680)
Ernie Smith Jazz Film Collection, circa 1910- circa 1970 (AC0491)
The National Museum of American History, Division of Culture ands the Arts holds Ella Fitzgerald artifacts including costumes and clothing.
The collection was donated by the Fitzgerald 1989 Trust, Richard Rosman, trustee on April 14, 1997. The Ella Fitzgeral Charitable Foundation is the successor to the Fitzgerald 1989 Trust.
Collection is open for research. Only reference copies of audiovisual materials can be used.
The Archives Center can provide reproductions of some materials for research and educational use. Copyright and right to publicity restrictions apply and limit reproduction for other purposes. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.