Female jazz singers have entranced crowds with their voices, but three women reign supreme as trailblazers in the jazz genre. Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan are still household names today.
Billie Holiday (1915-1959)
Billie Holiday faced a lifetime of highs and lows, and she somehow managed to share every moment with her voice. She got her first job while trying to find any kind of work during the Great Depression in New York City, and she just kept climbing. As she rose, she recorded "Strange Fruit," a powerful song against lynching, and she earned the nickname "Lady Day." After years of battling drug addiction, her voice grew weaker, and she died at the young age of 44.
Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)
If Billie Holiday was the more brooding artistic genius, Ella Fitzgerald lent a bright touch to jazz and pop vocals. Although her work may have seemed more like pop, she could still scat like no one else. She began her career after winning a contest at the Apollo and joining Chick Webb's band. Also a songwriter, she wrote the hit tune "A-Tisket A-Tasket," which was a number-one song in 1938. She became best known for her ability to turn standards, like songs by Cole Porter and Duke Ellington, into something magical. Since Fitzgerald could shine in several genres, her work has remained relevant for many generations.
Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990)
Sarah Vaughan, also known as "The Divine One," followed the path of Ella Fitzgerald, first gaining notice after winning a talent contest at the Apollo. She worked with greats such as Billy Eckstine and Charlie Parker, but she established herself as a solo artist. Like Fitzgerald, Vaughan could move easily from pop to jazz to show tunes. Although she may not have sold as many records as other female jazz singers, she was revered by other musicians and performed well into her 60s, becoming known for her rendition of "Send in the Clowns."
This list leaves out many legendary female jazz singers, but, if you are just beginning to build up a collection of jazz albums, you cannot go wrong if you include albums by any of these artists.
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