Jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald is widely considered to be one of the greatest performers of all time, a woman whose voice and stage presence was unlike anything else in the entertainment business. She overcame a difficult childhood and adolescence to eventually dominate the music industry, making a series of famous friends in the ’50s and ’60s.
Fitzgerald passed away in 1996, but her influence continues to live on in today’s young artists — and generations of fans are still discovering her greatness, and learning everything that they can about her inspiring life and fascinating personal history.
When was Ella Fitzgerald born?
Ella Fitzgerald was born in Virginia in 1917. When she was a baby, Fitzgerald’s family relocated to New York, where she cycled through several schools over the course of her early childhood. Fitzgerald’s family was active in church and their local community, and it was at church that Fitzgerald first started performing.
She sang for friends and family, and at worship services, and studied jazz records intensely, learning what she could about delivery and pitch.
When Fitzgerald was only 15 years old, her mother passed away due to a tragic car accident. This led to a particularly difficult time in her life, and although she moved in with her aunt, she ended up spending some time in reform school.
By the time she was 17, Fitzgerald was performing with various musical acts in nightclubs and had started winning talent shows due to her incredible voice. Her first big break, according to Honey.Nine.com, was when she landed a gig with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House.
A complicated first marriage
In the ’30s, Ella Fitzgerald launched her recording career. In 1939, she debuted her group Ella and Her Famous Orchestra. It was a period of great professional success for Fitzgerald, and soon, her personal life would flourish as well.
In 1941, she married Benny Kornegay, a man with a checkered past. The marriage lasted for barely a year before it was annulled in 1942. The subject of her first husband would become a sore spot with Fitzgerald, and according to IMDb, she later denied ever being married to Kornegay.
By the ’50s, Fitzgerald’s star had risen in Hollywood, and she was called upon to record many covers of standard jazz songs. She made friends with Hollywood stars, including Marilyn Monroe.
Also around that time, Fitzgerald embarked upon her second major relationship. In 1947, she married Ray Brown, a fellow musician who had earned renown for his work as a bassist with Dizzy Gillespie’s band.
Who was Ella Fitzgerald married to when she passed away?
Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Brown adopted a son, whom they named Ray Brown Jr. Sadly, the pressures of fame and life in the spotlight affected Fitzgerald and Brown’s relationship, and in 1953, the couple divorced.
Fitzgerald’s star continued to rise in Hollywood, and throughout the remainder of her life, she was considered to be a cultural icon. While Fitzgerald’s two marriages had failed, the star never closed herself off to love. According to The Independent, Fitzgerald said “I want to get married again. I’m still looking,” after her marriage to Brown ended in divorce. “Everybody needs companionship.”
Although Fitzgerald is not officially known to have married for a third time, there were long-standing rumors that she had secretly wed a Norwegian man named Thor Einar Larsen. Fitzgerald never confirmed the rumors, and when she passed away in 1996, she was single.
Still, she was surrounded to the end by the love and devotion of her fan base. For these fans, and for new generations who discover her music, her influence will live forever.