Ella Fitzgerald

Delaware Theatre Company

You know Freda Payne's voice from the smash hit “Band of Gold,” which topped the pop charts here and in the U.K. in 1970. During her long career, she has also made appearances on TV and in film. And now, for the third time, she's portraying Ella Fitzgerald onstage in Ella: First Lady of Song at Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington.

The great Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25th, 1917, and 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.

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.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), so we're spotlighting albums that are the benchmarks of influence and popularity. Each week we're highlighting an album that deserves to be called classic; this week's treasure is the first collaboration between Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

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. 1 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

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.

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.

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.

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