Ella Fitzgerald

The songs, or standards, known to us today as "The Great American Songbook" flourished from the mid 1920s to about 1950. Singer Carmen McRae popularized the term with her 1972 album, The Great American Songbook. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, a new book on the subject shines light on the role of jazz in the rise, fall, and rebirth of these great American songs.


One hundred years ago Tuesday, in a working-poor neighborhood of Newport News, Va., a laundress and a shipyard worker had a baby girl. The father soon disappeared, and the mother and child moved north to New York. The mother died. The girl ran away and became one of the most important singers of the 20th century.

Ella Fitzgerald could sing anything: a silly novelty song, like her breakthrough hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." A samba that scatted. A ballad, spooling out like satin.

It's Jazz Appreciation Month on WRTI!

Apr 21, 2017

April is here, and that means we're celebrating jazz in a special way on WRTI—all month long. The Smithsonian Institution launched Jazz Appreciation Month in 2002 to herald and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz. And since that time we've been honoring jazz greats every April, and so has the City of Philadelphia.

Though she was blessed with impeccable intonation, a distinctive sound, and a superb sense of timing, Ella Fitzgerald was hindered in her early years by the limitations of the repertoire she sang. It took some time, determination, and visionary collaboration for Ella to find her voice.

Since it opened its doors in 1913, the Apollo Theater has survived a series of iterations, closures, renovations, and shifts in direction. Its allure as a venue for jazz began in the 1930s with the debut of Jazz a la Carte, a show with an all-black cast.

That clean, clear, flexible, and soulful voice can only belong to "The Queen of Song," Ella Fitzgerald. She amazes us with her improvising, range, and pristine intonation sounding like a trumpet at times. And she makes us laugh out loud when she scats, sounding like she knows something we don’t. But above all, Ella sounds like a lady, and one of the greatest jazz performers of any kind, of any time. You voted her the No. 2 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

The great Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25th, 1917, and sadly she died in 1996. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, "The Queen of Jazz" - also called "The First Lady of Song," left a lasting legacy on American song and jazz.

WRTI's Susan Lewis takes a look at the life and music of the great jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, with commentary by Jazz Host Bob Perkins. April 25th is Ella's birthday! She would have turned 98 today.

Drummer Chick Webb's 1930s orchestra terrorized competitors in band battles and sent dancers into orbit at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. They could be similarly explosive on record, but only rarely. Early on, they did have some hot Edgar Sampson arrangements that Benny Goodman would soon turn into hits, like "Blue Lou" and "Don't Be That Way." But the Webb band also had an old-school crooner, Charles Linton, with pre-jazz-age enunciation.

Spend the Thanksgiving holiday with WRTI as we page through the Great American Songbook to celebrate one of the great American holidays!  From Gershwin and Porter compositions to tunes that the jazz giants made standard, these great pieces will be the perfect companion to your Thanksgiving feast.  You'll hear the greatest singers and bandleaders of jazz along with contemporary arrangements of these popular tunes.

We'll kick off the festivities at 6 pm on Thanksgiving and continue through Saturday morning. Join us as we give thanks for great music!

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