Greetings KEXP friends, Michele Myers here, producer of KEXP Documentaries. Every week we bring you a musical subject in the time it takes to play just one song, and this week we started a brand new series, Sirens of Jazz. With profiles on female vocalists from the past and present. Jazz soloists were the first real pop stars in history. And songs from greats like Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Cassandra Wilson have some of the most powerful vocals ever recorded.
Ella Fitzgerald started out rough. Born into a poor family she was abused by her stepdad. Her mom died when she was just 14 and by her late teens she was living in the streets of New York City. Ella headed up a gang of kids who did odd jobs, like being lookouts for pimps and running numbers (an illegal gambling game). Ella would also sing and dance for tips on street corners.
She got her big break when she was 17 at an amateur talent show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She was originally going to dance for the competition, but after seeing a bunch of dancers decided to sing. And she brought the house down.
During her lifetime, Ella Fitzgerald won 15 Grammy awards and her albums sold more than 40 million copies.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers. With assistance from John Felthous and Mary Janisch. Executive Producer is Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.