Smithsonian Collections

Ella Fitzgerald

Image for Ella Fitzgerald
Smithsonian Museum
National Portrait Gallery
Ella Fitzgerald entered a Harlem talent contest in the mid-1930s, intending to do a dance. On stage, however, her legs froze, and in desperation she launched into song. Her fallback alternative proved good enough to win the contest, and so began a singing career that would make Fitzgerald the "First Lady of Song." Blessed with a voice capable of seamlessly spanning three octaves, Fitzgerald soon perfected her remarkable gifts for vocal improvisation, known as "scat" singing. Her "songbook" recordings of American standards, made from 1956 to 1964, are the definitive tributes to Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and others. Fitzgerald's respectful understanding of a composer's intentions made these songwriters some of her most ardent fans. "I never knew how good our songs were," lyricist Ira Gershwin once said, "until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them."
Lisette Model, 1 Nov 1901 - 30 Mar 1983
Ella Fitzgerald, 25 Apr 1917 - 15 Jun 1996
c. 1954
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.9 x 27.5 cm (13 3/4 x 10 13/16")
Mat: 71.1 x 55.9 cm (28 x 22")
Frame: 71.9 x 56.7 x 3.2 cm (28 5/16 x 22 5/16 x 1 1/4")