The Ladies of Jazz Music

By Jacob Winkler

Jazz music has been a staple of American and world culture for years. While there are lots of male jazz-artists, there are also several very talented female-singers in the field of jazz music. Ella Fitzgerald, Eva Cassidy, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Etta Jones are some of the best and most well-known female, and over-all, jazz artists from the 20th century (which is when their careers began and/or lasted). I’m going to talk about these five jazz legends and give a run-down of their careers. 

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)

(Fitzgerald pictured in the 1950s/1960s)

Ella Fitzgerald is one of the most recognized and well known singers in music history. Fitzgerald, born in Newport New, VA in 1917, performed at Amateur Nights at the Apollo Theater in NYC as a singer, and won first place. One of her earliest hits was a jazzy version of the children’s nursery rhyme “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”, followed by a slew of hits released through-out her career, such as “Summertime”, “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, “Cheek to Cheek”, “How High The Moon”, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, and “Blue Skies”. She sadly passed away at her home in 1996 due to a stroke, and was buried in Los Angeles after a private funeral.

 Eva Cassidy (1963-1996)

(Cassidy pictured in 1988)

Eva Cassidy was a guitarist, pianist, and singer from Maryland. Known outside of the DC/Maryland area through-out her life, she didn’t rise to stardom during her lifetime, she didn’t release a chart topping album or a platinum selling single in the span of her life-time. She simply sang for her community. She sang from her heart. Eva unfortunately developed and soon died from cancer in November of 1996, at her family’s home in Maryland. After her death, her first album of previously recorded material, was released in September of 1997. Titled Eva by Heart, the album was positively received, but a compilation album of songs recorded by Eva, released in 1998 and titled Songbird, was a hit. From then on, several albums of previously recorded and unreleased material from Cassidy (including covers of hits like Time After Time, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Kathy’s Song, Imagine, and Coat of Many Colors) would be released, cementing Eva as a jazz legend. 

Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

(Holiday pictured in 1957, laying down a track at a New York City recording studio)

For nearly thirty years, Billie Holiday entertained the world with her jazz music. Her career might not have lasted as long as the other women on this lust, but she still cemented herself as an amazing singer and jazz artist. Billie is known for hits such as “Strange Fruit”, “Blue Moon”, and “I Cover the Waterfront”. She unfortunately passed away due to pulmonary edema and heart failure in 1959, cutting her musical career far to short.

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

(Franklin photographed by Michael Ochs in the 1950s/1960s)

Aretha Franklin is arguably one of the most well known singers of all time. She has turned out multiple hit singles and albums over the span of her more than sixty-year career. Several songs from her repertoire include “Call Me”, “Jump to It”, “Freeway of Love”, “Respect”, and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman”. On August 13, 2018, she was reported to be gravely ill, and she died at her home three days later. A memorial service was held another three days later, with celebrities such as Ariana Grande, Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight in attendance.

Etta Jones (1928-2001)

(Jones pictured on the cover of her 1995 album, At Last)

South Carolina native, Etta Jones, recorded many hits over the span of her over 50 year career, including songs like “Don’t Go to Strangers”, “Save Your Love for Me”, and a cover of “At Last”. Jones has not only turned out amazing material on her own, she has also worked with legends such as Houston Preston, Buddy Johnson, and Leonard Feather. Jones received three Grammy nominations for three of her albums “My Buddy” (1998; dedicated to Buddy Johnson), “Save Your Love For Me (1981) and “Don’t Go to Strangers” (1960), the latter being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. She passed away at the age of 72 in New York.

There are many more influential, legendary, and exceptionally talented jazz artists, both male and female; but I had to narrow it down to some of my personal favorites. Jazz is a very important piece to the America-Music puzzle, and it plays a big role in musical culture and the culture of the twentieth-century as-a-whole. There are many people with varying opinions on jazz music, but I’m sure that everyone can agree that these five singers are some of the best artists of the jazz genre. 

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