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National Portrait Gallery Celebrates Ella Fitzgerald 100th Birth Anniversary

A Photograph by William P. Gottlieb Will Be on Display April 13

March 30, 2017

April 25 marks the 100th birthday of American jazz and popular song vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will recognize the anniversary by displaying her photograph by William Gottlieb for the first time in the museum. Fitzgerald’s portrait will be on view from April 13 to May 18 in the museum’s “Celebrate” space in the first-floor north gallery. Media are invited for an open house to view and photograph the portrait Thursday, April 13, at 11:30 a.m. 

The photograph pictures Fitzgerald in performance, flanked by Ray Brown (left), Dizzy Gillespie (right) and Milt Jackson (far right). It was taken around 1947 by William P. Gottlieb (1917–2006), who learned to use a camera so that he could produce images to accompany his weekly music column for The Washington Post. Today, Gottlieb’s photographs of jazz musicians from 1930s and ’40s are regarded as invaluable visual records of jazz’s Golden Age.  

The photograph is a recent gift to the Portrait Gallery from Lisa Ruthel and Anup Mahurkar and the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation has helped make it possible for this portrait to be on view in honor of “Ella at 100: The Centennial Celebration.”

Hailed as the “First Lady of Song,” Fitzgerald topped DownBeat magazine’s annual readers’ poll as the best female vocalist for 17 consecutive years (1953–70). She was just a teenager when her victory in an amateur contest at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater led to the opportunity to sing with Chick Webb’s orchestra in 1935. Fitzgerald soon secured her standing as a leading swing-era performer and scored a major hit with “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (1938). After Webb’s death in 1939, she led his orchestra for three years before launching a highly successful solo career. With a supple voice that spanned three octaves, as well as an immense talent for improvisational “scat” singing, Fitzgerald built a wide-ranging repertoire encompassing jazz and popular song. Her long and fruitful association with jazz impresario Norman Granz resulted in the legendary series of “songbook” recordings that marked Fitzgerald as one of the greatest interpreters of American popular music.

The image is available for press at newsdesk.si.edu; it can also be photographed or filmed in the museum. For access, contact Marielba Alvarez at alvarezma@si.edu.

Galería Nacional de Retratos

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story. 

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Website: npg.si.edu. Connect with the museum at Facebook; Instagram; blog; Twitter and YouTube.

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