How did Ella Fitzgerald become the legend she was?

That’s the question author Judith Tick asks and answers in her new biography on the famed vocalist, “Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song," our March selection for Bookmarked: The Under the Radar Book Club.

Jazz and history buffs know about the young Ella Fitzgerald’s first nervous performance at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater. The new book marks that pivotal moment in the life of the would-be dancer and many new details in the first full-scaled biography since the singer’s death nearly thirty years ago.

Tick describes Fitzgerald's legacy as a duality: "She could sing all kinds of songs... she could go on all kinds of television programs and uplift people around her. And yet, at the same time, her humility and her ordinariness shows us the full dimensions of a great personality."

From turning a nursery rhyme into a classic jazz tune to perfecting improvisational singing known as scatting, Ella Fitzgerald’s talent led her to become one of America’s cultural icons.


Judith Tick, Professor emeritus of music history at Boston’s Northeastern University. She is the author of “Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song.”