Becoming Ella Fitzgerald

The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song

26 January 2024

Judith Tick (Author)


A landmark biography that reclaims Ella Fitzgerald as a major American artist and modernist innovator

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 revolutionise American music. From Fitzgerald’s first audition at the Apollo Theatre 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 “naïve”. Tick reveals instead an ambitious risk-taker with a stunningly diverse repertoire, whose exceptional musical spontaneity (often radically different on stage than in the studio) made her a transformational artist.


"[A] worthy new biography" — Christopher Bray, Daily Mail

"Thoughtful and thorough... trace[s] the singer through the vast variety of songs she sang, songs that not only defined Fitzgerald's career but which came to define what it is to be a jazz singer." — The Wall Street Journal

"Becoming Ella Fitzgerald offers a detailed account of the singer’s life, even if she remains a somewhat enigmatic figure. It succeeds in arguing that Fitzgerald’s legacy lies, in part, in how she forced an entire industry to become more accepting of talent—however it appears or sounds." — The Economist

"[A] tenaciously researched book... This fine account reveals one of the greats in an entirely new light." — Philip Clark, Prospect



163 x 244 mm • 592 pages


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