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Ella to Ariana: The Evolution of Music’s Icons

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

By Gianna Pacilio ('22)

More often than not, when people think of music, they think of singers, icons, and fame. But how have these singing icons changed over the years?

Ella Fitzgerald, also known as “the First Lady of Song”, “the Queen of Jazz”, and “Lady Ella”, was an extremely talented artist in the jazz world, and was known for her voice’s range and tone. According to, she won a total of thirteen Grammy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom and held a career spanning almost 60 years. Most popular in the 1950s, Fitzgerald broke many barriers for African-American women. She was the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award in 1958 and won the NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement. Fitzgerald also appeared in a few films during her career, such as Ride ‘Em Cowboy and St. Louis Blues.

Ariana Grande, arguably the most influential pop star of our generation, seems to be the new Fitzgerald. This should set her up to have a longer career than Ella. According to, Ariana currently has one Grammy Award, 209 million Instagram followers, 79.7 million Twitter followers, 45.4 million YouTube subscribers, and 12.3 million Snapchat subscribers. Ariana Grande is not only famous for her musical career, but also her fashion along with her early years on two Nickelodeon TV shows: Victorious and Sam & Cat, where she played a character named Cat Valentine. Ariana already had a successful career in show business at the age of 17.

On the other hand, according to Britannica, Ella Fitzgerald had her first hit at the age of eighteen (without any acting background), and went on to become the leader of the Benny Goodman Orchestra at the young age of 22. Ella gained popularity primarily for her style of music, and tone of her voice. In her time, people did not “follow” her for her fashion sense in the same way people follow Ariana Grande today. This is not to say that she did not have a good sense of fashion, but rather that people did not see that as her most striking quality.

Ariana Grande collaborated with Jennifer Hudson and Mariah Carey for an Apple TV+ Christmas special, called “Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special''. This was a huge milestone in her career. It is reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald’s famous Christmas album, called “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas”, released in 1960 with songs such as “Sleigh Ride'' that are still being played around the holidays today.

Music enthusiast junior Adriana Ramirez said,“Standards have changed in terms of staying relevant in today’s world. I think someone who is iconic is someone who is unique as an individual, but also someone who is vocal about international causes and brings awareness to those situations.”

Over time, ideals of famous people have changed greatly. They now have to be involved in both film and music, have great fashion, and be on social media with a substantial following, and be aware of real world problems. In Ella Fitgerald’s prime time, celebrities had to be good at their job, have songs on the radio, and maybe appear in a film or two. These standards will probably continue to change.

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