Today in History

Today in History: April 25

U.S. Declares War on Spain

Battleship Maine
U.S. Battleship Maine,
Samuel H. Gottscho, photographer, before February 15, 1898.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955

On April 25,1898, the United States formally declared war against Spain. The Monroe Doctrine, which since 1823 had viewed any European intervention in the Americas as a threat to U.S. security, coupled with the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor precipitated the U.S. engagement. Coverage by both the Hearst newspapers and the nascent film industry solidified public support for involvement in Cuba's struggle for independence.

Within months, Spain's overseas empire, which had begun with Columbus' voyages of discovery, finally collapsed under the U.S.' two-pronged war strategy. Commodore George Dewey sailed to the Pacific the day that war was declared. On May 1 the Spanish fleet was defeated in the Philippines. The U.S. Marines and other troops, including Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, helped defeat Spanish forces in the Americas.

U.S.S. Maine
Restos del U.S.S. Maine,
William Henry Jackson, photographer, ca. 1900.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

The U.S. and Spain signed a peace treaty in December 1898. Spain gave up its claims to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Guam and, for twenty million, transferred the Philippines to the U.S. The U.S. emerged from the war as a significant player on the world stage.

El Parapeto de la Cabana

Palacio del Gobierno General

Castillo del Morro

Havana, Cuba, William Henry Jackson, photographer, copyright 1900.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald
Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald,
Carl Van Vechten, photographer, January 19, 1940.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia. She was one of the leading jazz singers of all time.  In her lifetime, she won thirteen Grammys—two from the first Grammy Awards in 1958 (best jazz individual and best female pop vocal performer).   Her recordings have sold more than 40 million albums.

Fitzgerald's career began at Amateur Night at Harlem's Apollo Theater. She soon went on to sing with the Chick Webb orchestra and made her first recordings in 1935. After Webb's death in 1939, she led the band for about three years before launching out on her own.

From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s her career was managed by jazz impresario Norman Granz. During this time Fitzgerald recorded a series of nineteen albums and her inimitable style became nationally recognized. Granz also arranged for her to tour extensively and to work closely with the Oscar Peterson Trio.

Fitzgerald's mastery of "scat," in which the singer improvises nonsense syllables to imitate a musical instrument, is heard throughout her recordings. Although the history of scatting may date back to West Africa, trumpeter Louis Armstrong made it popular in the U.S. When he accompanied blues singer Bessie Smith, for example, Armstrong used his coronet to sound out vocalizations; conversely, Fitzgerald likened her voice to a musical instrument, a saxophone. Through recordings, concerts, and television appearances, both figures brought scat to a broad public audience.

Fitzgerald recorded hundreds of songs composed by great American lyricists such as Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Richard Rogers. She performed with many great musical talents of her day including Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Dizzy Gillespie.