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Blast from the past

LEGENDS: Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald

THE MONTH of April salutes the birthdays of two of the world’s most famous, and revered African American jazz singers: the ‘First Lady of Song’ and the ‘The Duke.’

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born April 25, 1917 and had a vocal range spanning three octaves. She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a horn-like improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

Following a troubled childhood, Fitzgerald turned to singing and debuted at the Apollo Theatre in 1934.

Discovered in an amateur contest, she became the top female jazz singer for more than 50 years.

In 1958, Fitzgerald made history as the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award.

Her multi-volume songbooks on Verve Records are among the treasures of American song. Fitzgerald died in California in 1996.

April 29 marks the birthday of Duke Ellington, jazz musician and composer. Born in 1899, in Washington, D.C, Edward Kennedy known as ‘The Duke,’ earned his nickname due to his gentlemanly ways.

A major figure in the history of jazz music, his career spanned more than half a century, during which time he composed thousands of songs for the stage, screen and contemporary songbook.

He created one of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in Western music and continued to play what he called ‘American Music’ until shortly before his death in 1974.

It was Ellington’s sense of musical drama that made him stand out from the crowd.

His blend of melodies, rhythms and subtle sonic movements gave audiences a new experience - complex yet accessible jazz that made the heart swing.

Ellington earned 12 Grammy awards from 1959 to 2000, not forgetting the nine while he was alive.

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