Most people who do not know jazz probably recognize the name of one of the best singers in the genre: Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is one of eight women at the center of this season's NPR Music's Turning the Tables, and she's arguably one of the most important singers not just in jazz but in the entire history of American music. She was the "First Lady of Song" with an extraordinary vocal style, outstanding technical skills and a spirited energy.
In 1960 Fitzgerald had become a worldwide sensation. In February of this year, she gave an unforgettable performance in front of thousands of spectators in West Berlin. On the set list was "Mack The Knife," a big hit that was first popularized by Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong. Fitzgerald sang the song immaculately to about half when she forgot the lyrics. But she has not stumbled ̵
Later on set, Fitzgerald again showed how good she is in her interpretation of "How High The Moon". It is considered one of the finest scat solos ever recorded, featuring sharp vocal control, perfect intonation and rhythmic acuity. In addition to her musical excellence, the performance also showed her ironic sense of humor and her ability to "quote" while improvising or to refer to other songs. According to jazz critic Will Friedwald, Fitzgerald was the master of citation. He remembers that he once went "bar-by-bar through the songs and brought out 50 songs she quoted in about five minutes, unbelievable how her mind works!" is the legacy she left to the following singers. Before Fitzgerald, singers were not considered instrumentalists as musicians. At that time, "the only requirement for a singer was to sing the lyrics," says singer Charenee Wade. But Fitzgerald has proven that the singers have the same artistic level as any other band member. Wade continues, "I'm just grateful she did that for us, she's created a way for singers to be a part of what I think is fun."