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September 25, 2017

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Museum marks Ella Fitzgerald's 100th

LOS ANGELES -- The Grammy Museum is putting rare Ella Fitzgerald memorabilia on display for what would have been the singing legend's 100th birthday.

The museum's "Ella at 100: Celebrating the Artistry of Ella Fitzgerald" exhibition includes the first Grammy Award that Fitzgerald won — the first awarded to an African-American woman — as well as some of her gowns, sheet music and personal telegrams.

Fitzgerald died in 1996 at 79 from complications with diabetes and left few possessions beyond personal notes, but the exhibit puts a focus on what made Fitzgerald a star — her voice.

Grammy Museum curator Nwaka Onwusa says she wants visitors to be captivated by her singing, so the exhibit includes video and audio of her early performances with jazz greats Count Basie or Duke Ellington.

The exhibit is one of several celebrations of Fitzgerald's birthday on Tuesday. New York City declared it Ella Fitzgerald Day and the Smithsonian has also opened a special exhibit, while Starbucks stores in the United States played her music.

"Ella Fitzgerald's is probably the single most important voice in American history," said recording artist Miles Mosley. "If you're going to start with any song before 1970, her version is the one you start from. That's the ground floor. That is the most representative version of what the composer themselves wished their songs would sound like."

Over the course of her career, she sang swing, bebop, pop, jazz. Among her best-known works are a 1938 novelty smash, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," which she co-wrote, and a series of eight album sets, each dedicated to an American songwriter or songwriting team. In addition to being best sellers, those albums helped establish the long-play record as a platform for deeper, more serious musical exploration.

Twenty-plus years after Fitzgerald's death, the rave reviews keep pouring in.

Celebration of Fitzgerald's 100th actually began March 31, as Dianne Reeves held a Fitzgerald tribute concert at the Library of Congress, which serves as home to Fitzgerald's personal library. A day later, Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, which has long hosted a Fitzgerald exhibit, opened a new display, "First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100," kicking off Jazz Appreciation Month.

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