If you have a love of jazz, you’ll find a lot to love in Virginia. April is Jazz Appreciation Month and as such, we’re shining a spotlight on our most beloved jazz musician, Ella Fitzgerald.
Ella Fitzgerald, called “The First Lady of Song,” was born in Newport News, Virginia on April 25, 1917. Shortly after birth, she and her mother moved to Yonkers, New York. In 1934 Ella’s name was drawn to compete in Amateur Night at the Apollo. She planned to dance but changed her mind after seeing the dance act that preceded her. Instead, she sang “Judy” by Hoagy Carmichael and was cheered on to perform an encore. Impressed with the natural talent he saw, saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter helped Ella launch her career. Ella became the singer of the Tiny Bradshaw Band in 1935 before recording her first song, “Love and Kisses” in 1936. In 1938, Ella scored her first number one hit with “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
- Worked with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie
- National Medal of Arts Award by President Ronald Reagan, 1987
- NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1988
- Recorded more than 200 albums
- Thirteen-time Grammy Award winner
- Gave her last concert in 1991 at Carnegie Hall
- Presidential Medal of Freedom Award by President George H. W. Bush, 1992
On what would be Ella’s 97th birthday (April 25), The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra will present A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News. Tickets from $29. Buy Now
Additional Notable Jazz Musicians from Virginia:
- James Genus of Hampton is a jazz bassist who has played in the Saturday Night Live Band and most recently studio recorded with Grammy Award-winning Daft Punk. His talents are heard on “Giorgio by Moroder,” “Touch,” “Beyond,” “Motherboard,” “Fragments of Time,” and “Contact.”
- Lonnie Liston Smith of Richmond is a jazz pianist and keyboardist who has recorded with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders and Miles Davis. Smith is noted for mashing jazz with rap in the 1990s.
- Steve Wilson of Hampton is a jazz instrumentalist best known as a flautist and saxophonist.
- Don Pullen was a Roanoke native and jazz pianist who was well received in Europe for his avant-garde style.
Upcoming Jazz Events:
- Norfolk – April 17 – Chick Corea
- Norfolk – May 7 – Nneena Freelon
- Williamsburg – May 25 – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
- Hot Springs – June 13-15 – Virginia Blues & Jazz Festival
- Manassas – June 15 – Manassas Wine and Jazz Festival
- Hampton – June 27-28 – Hampton Jazz Festival
- Norfolk – July 18-20 – Annual AT&T Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival
- Richmond – August 7-10 – Richmond Jazz Festival
Did we miss any jazz musicians in Virginia? If so, let us know by leaving a comment.
Virginia is for Lovers.
Request a free Travel Guide.