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Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996) possessed one of the twentieth century’s most astonishing voices. In this first major biography since Fitzgerald’s death, music historian Judith Tick draws on deep archival research, family interviews, and newly available recordings and concert footage to show how Fitzgerald fused a Black vocal aesthetic with mainstream popular repertoire to revolutionize American music. From Fitzgerald’s first audition at the Apollo Theater to swing-era success at the Savoy, Tick shows how this “girl singer” broke new ground: as a female bandleader, as a groundbreaking bebop improviser, and as the arbiter of the American canon with her Song Book recordings. Yet even as she electrified concert halls and sold millions of records, jazz critics belittled her as “naive.” Tick reveals instead an ambitious risktaker with a stunningly diverse repertoire, whose exceptional musical spontaneity (often radically different on stage than in the studio) made her a transformational artist.
Judith Tick is professor emerita of music history at Northeastern University. She has published award-winning books and articles about American music and women’s history in music, including Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer’s Search for Music. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. Judith Tick will be interviewed by Kim Nalley, a classical musician who switched to Jazz for the freedom it provided. An international performer and a true Renaissance woman, Kim has been a featured writer for JazzWest and SF Chronicle’s City Brights. She earned her Ph.D. in history at UC Berkeley and is a published scholar.