Ellafitzgerald-thebestofellafitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald was born 100 years ago today and died on June 15, 1996. By any measure, she was easily the most important singer of the 20th century. By the time she was 21 in 1938, she had completely transformed pop singing, dragging the vocal into the Swing Era by giving it more relaxed, jazz-influenced feel. In the 1940s, following Chick Webb’s death in 1939, she led Webb’s band and became the Swing Era’s first important female big-band leader. By the early 1950s, she was already considered the first lady of pop, on par with Louis Armstrong’s role in jazz. In the 12-inch album era beginning in the mid-1950s, Ella worked harder than any other singer, male or female—undertaking a massive songbook album series, recording many other LPs and touring worldwide relentlessly. In the 1960s and beyond, she was a larger-than-life figure on TV variety shows and considered by black and white audiences to be a living legend. No other jazz artist held this elevated status except Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

On Ella Fitzgerald’s centenary birth date, I’ve selected nine video clips—all of them duets—to show off her signing style, note choices, competitive nature and sheer power:

Here’s Ella in 1951 with Frank Sinatra, who, to my ear (and Ella’s expressions), was a little flat…

Here’s Ella with Nat King Cole in 1967…

Here’s Ella with Dinah Shore and Andy Williams in 1960…

Here’s Ella with Jo Stafford in 1961…

Here’s Ella with Sammy Davis Jr. on Feb. 2, 1964—a week before the Beatles appeared for the first time on the variety show…

Here’s Ella with Dean Martin (and Gordon MacRae) in December 1965…

Here’s Ella with Tom Jones in 1970…

Here’s Ella with Sarah Vaughan and Pearl Bailey in 1979…

And here’s Ella with Karen Carpenter in 1980…

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