Benny Kornegay was a local dockworker and convicted drug dealer who married Ella Fitzgerald in 1941. Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived and annulled in 1942 after Ella discovered Benny’s criminal history. After the annulment, Benny faded from the public eye and little is known about his life after the marriage.
His ex-wife, Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia to William Fitzgerald and Temperance “Tempie” Henry. After her mother’s passing in 1932, Ella moved to Harlem and was placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale, the Bronx and the New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York. During this time, she developed a love for jazz, listening to Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and the Boswell Sisters.
In 1934, Ella Fitzgerald made her debut at the Apollo Theater in Harlem with her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection”. She was then introduced to drummer and bandleader Chick Webb and joined his orchestra, recording numerous successful songs with them from 1935-1942. She also had a side project, Ella Fitzgerald and Her Savoy Eight. Her biggest success came in 1938 with the release of her version of the nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”. When Chick Webb passed away in 1939, Fitzgerald assumed control as a bandleader and continued to perform and record with the Benny Goodman Orchestra.
In 1942, Fitzgerald joined Decca Records and hit the charts with Bill Kenny & the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan and the Delta Rhythm Boys. She was given a major boost to her musical career when she began singing for Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic in 1945. Her 1945 record of “Flying Home” and 1947 record of “Oh Lady Be Good!” were acclaimed by The New York Times, solidifying her fame as one of jazz’s leading vocalists. In 1954, Fitzgerald toured Australia with Buddy Rich, Artie Shaw, and Jerry Colonna. In 1955, she opened the Mocambo nightclub in Hollywood, which helped jumpstart her career. From 1956 to 1964, she recorded eight Song Book sets for Verve Records. She went on to record for Atlantic, Capitol, and Reprise, and 20 albums for Granz’s Pablo Records between 1972 and 1991. Her last recording was in 1991 and she gave her last public performances in 1993.
During her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy Awards, including the prestigious Lifetime Achievement award in 1967. In 1958, she became the first African-American woman to win a Grammy at the inaugural show. Other awards and honors she received included the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Medal of Honor Award, the National Medal of Art, the Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award (named “Ella” in her honor), the Presidential Medal of Freedom, George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, UCLA Spring Sing, the UCLA Medal (1987), USC “Magnum Opus” Award, an honorary doctorate of Music from Yale University (1986), and an honorary doctorate of Music from Harvard University (1990).
Towards the end of her life, she suffered from diabetes, which caused numerous medical complications, including respiratory issues, congestive heart failure, exhaustion, and eventually, the amputation of both her legs below the knee. On June 15th 1996, Fitzgerald passed away due to a stroke at the age of 79. Her funeral was held privately and she was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.