Judith Tick, Matthews Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Music at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, has been awarded a fel­low­ship from the National Endow­ment for the Human­i­ties to write a biog­raphy of leg­endary jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald.

Tick, a pio­neer in the study of women and music, will be one of the first music his­to­rians to chron­icle Fitzgerald’s rise from an ama­teur enter­tainer in Harlem to one of the most beloved inter­preters of the Great Amer­ican Songbook.

There is bril­liant jazz crit­i­cism about Fitzgerald, and a highly respected biog­raphy, but I intend to use new archival sources to develop a richer con­text for Fitzgerald’s life and work,” says Tick, a self-​​described “second-​​wave fem­i­nist his­to­rian” who grew up lis­tening to Fitzgerald, Judy Gar­land and Frank Sinatra.

My job is to recon­struct what Fitzgerald’s expe­ri­ences would have been like as she moved from an African-​​American woman in a racist society to a figure of great cul­tural power and authority.”

Tick has a long his­tory of schol­ar­ship in Amer­ican music. Her biog­raphy on Amer­ican com­poser and folk musi­cian Ruth Craw­ford Seeger is con­sid­ered a classic in the field and fig­ured promi­nently in her 2004 induc­tion into the Amer­ican Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Last year, she was elected as an hon­orary member of the Amer­ican Musi­co­log­ical Society for her schol­ar­ship in women’s studies and Amer­ican music.

Tack­ling Fitzgerald’s extra­or­di­nary accom­plish­ments in music and society — she won 14 Grammy Awards and received the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Freedom from George H. W. Bush over a 59-​​year career — is Tick’s latest challenge.

But she’s pre­pared to paint an expan­sive pic­ture of the artist known as the “First Lady of Song.”

To do so, Tick is drawing on inter­views with Fitzgerald’s family and friends, ana­lyzing heaps of pho­tographs and video­tapes and exam­ining thou­sands of pages of scores from the Ella Fitzgerald Col­lec­tion at the Smith­sonian Institute.

She’s also con­ducting research at the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Library, which houses dig­i­tized ver­sions of three major his­tor­ical African-​​American newspapers.

This is a major com­mit­ment on the part of North­eastern to give scholars and stu­dents access to the intel­lec­tual rev­o­lu­tion of our time,” says Tick.

She plans to begin writing the biog­raphy in the fall and expects the book to hit the shelves some­time within the next three to five years.

The struc­ture and con­tent of the biog­raphy will emerge nat­u­rally through her research.

I don’t start out with many pre­con­cep­tions,” says Tick. “What I do know is that Fitzgerald’s voice was of the kind that comes along once in a century.”

View selected pub­li­ca­tions of Judith Tick in IRis, Northeastern’s dig­ital archive.