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On this day in 1934


Nov. 21, 1934

Ella Fitzgerald sings at Downbeat, a New York City jazz club, while Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timme Rosenkrantz listen.

Ella Fitzgerald, the “Queen of Jazz,” made her debut at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She had planned to go on stage and dance for Amateur Night, but when the Edwards Sisters danced before her, she decided to sing instead. That break led to others, and she became a sensation after a song she co-wrote, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” became a major hit in 1938. 

She battled racism, ordered by Pan-Am to leave their flight to Australia. Despite missing two concerts there, she went on to set a new box office record in Australia. She helped to break racial barriers, refusing to perform before segregated audiences. The NAACP awarded her the Equal Justice Award and the American Black Achievement Award. 

Fitzgerald became the first Black woman to win a Grammy. In her music, she innovated with scat singing, sang be-bop, jazz and even gospel hymns. She performed with her own orchestra, the Benny Goodman Orchestra, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and her Song Book series became a huge critical and commercial success. 

She performed in Hollywood films, and her most memorable take on television came when her voice shattered a glass. When the tape was played back, her voice broke another glass, and the ad asked, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” 

By the time she died in 1996, she had won 13 Grammy Awards, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Mattel has now designed a doll after her, part of the Barbie Inspiring Women Series, which “pays tribute to incredible heroines of their time — courageous women who took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations to dream bigger than ever before.”

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