June 15, 1996: At 79, Ms. Ella Fitzgerald died at her home in Beverly Hills.
A few hours after her death, the Playboy Jazz Festival was launched at the Hollywood Bowl. In tribute, the marquee read: “Ella We Will Miss You.”
Her funeral was private, and she was buried at Inglewood Cemetery in Los Angeles.
The acclaimed performed has suffered from a myriad of health problems. Back in 1985, Fitzgerald was hospitalized briefly for respiratory problems; in 1986, for congestive heart failure; and in 1990, for exhaustion. In 1993, due to the effects of diabetes, she suffered from problems with her eyesight in addition to having to amputate both legs. She was hospitalized again in 1996 in Niagara Falls, New York, where she was diagnosed with heart failure.
Her health continued to decline. Tired of being in the hospital, she wished to spend her last days at home. Confined to a wheelchair, she spent her final days in the backyard at her Beverly Hills mansion with her son, Ray, and 12-year-old granddaughter, Alice.
“I just want to smell the air, listen to the birds and hear Alice laugh,” she reportedly said.
On her last day, she was wheeled outside one last time and sat there for about an hour. After which, she was taken back inside, looked up with a soft smile on her face, and said, “I’m ready to go now.”
Ella Fitzgerald, also known as the “First Lady of Song,” “Queen of Jazz,” and “Lady Ella,” was a jazz vocalist with a vocal range spanning three octaves (D♭3 to D♭6).
She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, intonation, and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing. Fitzgerald was a notable interpreter of the Great American Songbook.
Over the course of her 59-year recording career, she sold 40 million copies of her 70-plus albums, won 13 Grammy Awards, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush.
Legacy and Tributes:
?The career history and archival material from Ella’s long career are housed in the Archives Center at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Her personal music arrangements are at the Library of Congress.
?Her extensive cookbook collection was donated to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. Her published sheet music collection is at the Schoenberg Library in New York City.
?In 1997, Newport News, Virginia, created a music festival with Christopher Newport University to honor Ella Fitzgerald in her birth city. The Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival is designed to teach the region’s youth of the musical legacy of Fitzgerald and jazz. Past performers at the week-long festival have included: Diana Krall, Arturo Sandoval, Jean Carne, Phil Woods, Aretha Franklin, Freda Payne, Cassandra Wilson, Ethel Ennis, David Sanborn, Jane Monheit, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ramsey Lewis, Patti Austin, and Ann Hampton Callaway.
?Callaway, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Patti Austin have all recorded albums in tribute to Fitzgerald. Callaway’s album, To Ella with Love, featured 14 jazz standards made popular by Fitzgerald. The album also features trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.
?Bridgewater’s album, Dear Ella, featured many musicians that were closely associated with Fitzgerald during her career, including pianist Lou Levy, trumpeter Benny Powell, and Fitzgerald’s second husband, double bassist Ray Brown.
?Bridgewater’s following album, Live at Yoshi’s, was recorded live on April 25, 1998, which would have been Fitzgerald’s 81st birthday.
?Austin’s album, For Ella, featured 11 songs most immediately associated with Fitzgerald, as well as a twelfth song, “Hearing Ella Sing,” which was Austin’s tribute to Fitzgerald. The album was nominated for a Grammy.
?In 2007, We All Love Ella was released, a tribute album recorded for the 90th anniversary of Fitzgerald’s birth. It featured artists such as Michael Bublé, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Queen Latifah, Ledisi, Dianne Reeves, Linda Ronstadt, and Lizz Wright, collating songs most readily associated with the “First Lady of Song”.
?Folk singer Odetta’s album, To Ella, is dedicated to Fitzgerald, but features no songs associated with her. Her accompanist, Tommy Flanagan, affectionately remembered Fitzgerald on his album, Lady Be Good…For Ella.
?Fitzgerald has been referred to in various songs, such as the 1987 song, “Ella, elle l’a,” by French singer France Gall; the 1976 Stevie Wonder hit, “Sir Duke,” from his album Songs in the Key of Life; and the song “I Love Being Here With You,” written by Peggy Lee and Bill Schluger.
?Sinatra’s 1986 recording of “Mack the Knife,” from his album L.A. Is My Lady, included a homage to some of the song’s previous performers, including “Lady Ella” herself.
?She is also honored in the song, “First Lady,” by Canadian artist Nikki Yanofsky.
?In 2008, the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center in Newport News named its brand new 276-seat theater the Ella Fitzgerald Theater. The theater is located several blocks away from her birthplace on Marshall Avenue. The Grand Opening performers were Roberta Flack and Queen Esther Marrow.
?In 2012, Rod Stewart performed a “virtual duet” with Ella Fitzgerald on his Christmas album, Merry Christmas, Baby, and his television special of the same name.
?In 2013, Google paid tribute to Ella by celebrating her 96th birthday with a Google Doodle on its U.S. homepage.
?There is a bronze sculpture of Fitzgerald in Yonkers, the city in which she grew up, created by American artist Vinnie Bagwell. It is located southeast of the main entrance to the Amtrak/Metro-North Railroad station in front of the city’s old trolley barn.
?A bust of Fitzgerald is on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California.
?On January 10, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that Fitzgerald would be honored with her own 39-cent postage stamp. The stamp was released in April 2007 as part of the Postal Service’s Black Heritage series.
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