At first reluctant to hire the young singer, Webb soon added Fitzgerald to the band’s payroll. The singer became an instant success with Harlem crowds and within a few weeks of joining the band - in June of 1935 - she recorded the sides "Are You Here to Stay" and "Love and Kisses." Many of the Webb/Fitzgerald recordings bordered on commercial novelty numbers, but the pair did bring the band nationwide fame and first-rate bookings. "Despite the trite material Ella chose (or was obliged) to sing," wrote Gunther Schuller in The Swing Era, "her innate talent shone through. Indeed, she lifted these banal songs to heights they did not deserve by her impeccable pitch."
For the next three years, Webb recorded 60 numbers featuring Fitzgerald, while only producing 14 instrumental recordings, including the critically acclaimed "Clap Hands! Here Comes Charlie" and "Harlem Congo," arranged by guitarist Charlie Dixon. These instrumentals exhibit Webb’s flawless drumming - his complete control over timing and the tasteful use of fills. On these recordings one can hear his use of cowbell, cymbal, wood block, snare-drum, tom-toms, and bass drum, on which he pounded out steady four-four time.
Ella Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia, the daughter of William Fitzgerald and Temperance "Tempie" Fitzgerald. Her parents were unmarried, and they had separated within a year of her birth. With her mother's new partner, a Portuguese immigrant named Joseph Da Silva, Ella and her mother moved to the city of Yonkers, in Westchester County, New York, as part of the first Great Migration of African Americans. Initially living in a single room, her mother and Da Silva soon found jobs and Ella's half-sister, Frances Da Silva, was born in 1923. By 1925 Fitzgerald and her family had moved to nearby School Street, then a predominantly poor Italian area. At the age of six, Fitzgerald began her formal education, and moved through a variety of schools before attending Benjamin Franklin Junior High School from 1929.
Fitzgerald had been passionate about dancing from third grade, being a fan of Earl "Snakehips" Tucker in particular, and would perform for her peers on the way to school and at lunchtime. Fitzgerald and her family were Methodists and were active in the Bethany African Methodist Episcopal Church, and she regularly attended worship services, Bible study, and Sunday school. The church would have provided Fitzgerald with her earliest experiences in formal music making, and she may have also had piano lessons during this period if her mother could afford it.
In her youth, Fitzgerald wanted to be a dancer, although she loved listening to jazz recordings by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and The Boswell Sisters. She idolized the lead singer Connee Boswell, later saying, "My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it....I tried so hard to sound just like her."
In 1932, her mother died from a heart attack. Following this trauma, Fitzgerald's grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. Abused by her stepfather, she ran away to her aunt and, at one point, worked as a lookout at a bordello and also with a Mafia-affiliated numbers runner. When the authorities caught up with her, she was first placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale, Bronx. However, when the orphanage proved too crowded, she was moved to the New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York, a state reformatory. Eventually she escaped and for a time she was homeless.
Radio Broadcast of Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb from the Savoy Ballroom, Harlem, NY. I beleive this recording to be from early 1939 before the decline in Chick Webbs health.