Did you have a chance to see the “NN hearts Ella” letters located in City Center that were unveiled during Hollydazzle by Mayor McKinley Price and the Newport News City Council members? An estimated 35,000 people were on site to see the letters unveiled. The letters are just one of many ways the City is honoring Newport News native Ella Fitzgerald
as 2017 will mark her centennial birthday.
The jazz legend was born in Newport News in April 1917 and briefly lived on Madison Avenue before relocating to New York with family. Ella made her first recording in 1935 and by the 1940s was a world renowned vocalist and scat singer, a style of singing that uses the voice to imitate an instrument. Throughout her career she recorded at least 200 albums, was the first African-American female to win a Grammy, and went on to win a total of 13 Grammys and sell more than 40 million albums. Her music has become timeless as it has been used in commercials and sang by many different artists.
Cities around the world are celebrating and all eyes are on Newport News as we honor our native daughter. There are plans to recognize her through a series of events over the course of the year and the city has started to set the tone. Earlier this fall, Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center, home of the Ella Fitzgerald Theater, started celebrating with a series of stage plays such as I Am Ella and The Stage that Launched an Icon: Ella Fitzgerald And the Apollo Theater, along with a concert featuring El Debarge. The season will continue into next year with a comedy show case and the annual Ella Fitzgerald Musical Festival that will run April 19 until April 22.
In January, the City will officially usher in the centennial year by hosting a “Pop up Jazz Club” that will host performances from various jazz artist playing Ella’s music, creating an ambiance reminiscent of the Cotton Club from the 1930s and 40s. Ella will also be celebrated with visual art during the year. A mural honoring her contributions is slated to be completed in the spring. Ella’s music will be interpreted through visual art as 100 artists will use her songs to create paintings and photos that will be on display at Downing-Gross. The Library of Congress has gifted a bronze bust that will also be on display around the City. Annual Newport News festivals and events such as the World Arts Festival and the July 4th celebration will also have elements of Ella weaved into the programming.
To stay up to date be sure to check event calendar on the City’s website as well as the calendar on Downing-Gross Cultural Center’s website
will continue to be populated with celebrations throughout the year. To learn more about Ella Fitzgerald and how other cities are celebrating visit the Ella Fitzgerald official website.