Exploring Ella Fitzgelad’s Legacy Today

Born April 25, 1917, Ella Fitzgerald’s early years in Newport News, Virginia, were brief, but formative. Despite challenges, her passion for music led to a legendary jazz career, inspiring generations. Later, she returned to Virginia and performed at the historic black neighbourhood, Hippodrome Theatre in Richmond’s Jackson Ward, although she was barred from performing at various venues in Richmond due to racial segregation. She also performed at the Cavalier Hotel’s Beach Club in Virginia Beach, joining the ranks of iconic performers like Cab Calloway, Frank Sinatra, and Benny Goodman. Between the years 1930 and 1950, the hotel was the world’s largest contractor of big band performers. Her journey was instrumental in paving the way for many future artists, especially those of colour.

Today, Ella Fitzgerald’s legacy can be felt throughout Newport News providing an opportunity for her fans and music enthusiasts to experience it from very close. Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center offers a deeper dive into her life and career. The Ella Fitzgerald Theater within the centre is a tribute to the profound impact she has on the local community and beyond.

A prominent landmark in the area is the striking mural at the Jefferson Brookville Apartments on 26th Street. At 13 feet in height and 12 feet in width, this mural and the intricate mosaic capture a slice of Ella’s story within the urban landscape.

In a heartfelt tribute, the community renamed 24th Street to Ella Fitzgerald Way in 2008. These enduring commemorations only remind the significance of Ella’s spirit and legacy along the streets of the Virginia town.

Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival

Each April, the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center in Newport transforms into the Ella Fitzgerald Theater for the Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival. Over three days, this festival pays honour to her legacy and as an inspiration and encouragement for budding musicians from around the world. Local and regional artists perform at the festival, showcasing their talents and providing a platform for emerging artists. For over 25 years, Newport News has proudly hosted this festival, as a testament to Ella’s legacy and timeless music. Ella’s influence resonates across genres and generations even to this day.

Visiting Newport News

Located within Hampton Roads along Virginia’s picturesque coastline, Newport News offers a wealth of attractions for tourists from sun-kissed beaches to vibrant neighbourhoods with shops, boutiques, local restaurants, family-friendly attractions, historic sites, and more.

A local brew at Tradition Brewing Company, a show at Peninsula Community Theatre, or creating art at Starving Artist Studio, this place has it all. Families with kids can immerse themselves in nature at the open-air Virginia Living Museum, home to indigenous species, or explore The Mariners’ Museum & Park’s vast maritime history.

While Ella Fitzgerjustald’s music transcends time, her legacy is kept alive at dedicated landmarks including the Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival. With her legendary tales and music blending in with Virginia’s cultural richness, this is a special journey through the state’s vibrant culture and communities.