Best female jazz vocalist: Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald? | The Tylt
Much like "Beatles vs. Stones" among rock fans, "Billie vs. Ella" is a never-ending debate in the jazz world. Ella Fitzgerald is famed for her technical virtuosity, three-octave vocal range and brilliant scat singing. Billie Holiday lacked Ella's range, but made up for it with the raw emotion in her delicate contralto and the originality of her sound. They're both brilliant—but who do you think was better? Read more and vote below! 🎤
Best female jazz vocalist: Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald?
Ella Fitzgerald made history as the first African-American woman to win a Grammy. She ended up winning a total of 13 Grammys and sold more than 40 million albums over a career that spanned nearly five decades.
All About Jazz says Fitzgerald "sang with nearly every type of instrumental configuration, from orchestras and big bands to combos to small groups, all filled with the finest jazz and studio musicians available." Bing Crosby said of her: "Man, woman and child, Ella is the greatest of them all." Peggy Lee called her "... the greatest jazz singer of our time. The standard by which each of us is measured."
Ella Fitzgerald was called “The First Lady Of Song” and “Queen of Jazz”—high praise, indeed, but well deserved. In the history of American music no one has been able to match the purity of her tone, the precision of her intonation or the hipness of her phrasing and ideas. She brought scat singing...to new heights.
Holiday's career was tragically short, and her life was full of suffering. But she translated that pain into her performances in a way few singers have before or since. Frank Sinatra was greatly influenced by Billie Holliday, as he told Ebony in 1958:
With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.
Phil Schaap, curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center, says Holiday "speaks to your heart. She catches your ear. She reaches your mind, and she does this with an emotional power that, of course, is genius and is beyond words."
Her recording of "Strange Fruit" in 1939 changed the musical landscape forever by putting "elements of protest and resistance back at the center of contemporary black musical culture," Angela Davis wrote in Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. David Margolick wrote:
Sixty years after it was first sung, jazz musicians still speak of the song with a mixture of awe and fear. "When she recorded it, it was more than revolutionary," the drummer Max Roach said of Holiday. "She made a statement that we all felt as black folks. No one was speaking out. She became one of the fighters, this beautiful lady who could sing and make you feel things. She became a voice of black people and they loved this woman."