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15 Facts About 'The Year Without a Summer'

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The history of natural disasters is peppered with storms, floods, and even asteroids, but some of the most fascinating disasters came from deep within the Earth itself thanks to volcanoes. Eruptions like the one that buried Pompeii, Italy, are prominently featured in grade school history lessons, but few volcanoes had such a dramatic and devastating impact as that of Mount Tambora. This volcano produced such a violent eruption in 1815 that it shielded the Earth from the intense summer sunlight, leading to 1816 becoming “The Year Without a Summer.”

1. MOUNT TAMBORA'S ERUPTION LASTED NEARLY TWO WEEKS ...

During the April 1815 eruption, the volcano ejected billions of tons of gas and debris into the atmosphere. Much of the heavier ash and debris fell on the islands around Tambora, but a significant amount wound up in the atmosphere, spreading around the world and partially blotting out the sun for months after the event. The eruption itself killed tens of thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of people in the resulting pyroclastic flows, choking ashfalls, and tsunamis.

2. ... AND WAS WORSE THAN OTHER, BETTER-KNOWN ERUPTIONS.

Indonesia is home to some of the busiest geological activity in the world. The eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatoa on August 27, 1883, is one of the most infamous volcanic disasters in recorded history, killing tens of thousands of people and affecting weather around the world for months after the eruption. However, just a few decades before it, Mount Tambora unleashed an eruption worse than Krakatoa, Washington’s Mount Saint Helens, and even Pompeii’s Vesuvius. 

Tambora registered a VEI-7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, a metric that measures the size of volcanic eruptions on a scale from VEI-0 (non-explosive) to VEI-8 (megacolossal). Krakatoa measured a VEI-6, while Mount St. Helens and Vesuvius both rated a VEI-5. 

3. IT CAUSED A VOLCANIC WINTER ...

We’re familiar with the greenhouse effect, where certain gasses and particulates in the atmosphere can trap heat and cause global temperatures to tick upward, but volcanic eruptions can cause the opposite effect.  There are two main mechanisms for this: the first is that the particulates ejected by volcanoes can act to reflect sunlight, allowing less solar radiation to reach the surface, keeping global temperatures lower than they would be under normal conditions. The result is a volcanic winter, similar to the much-feared “nuclear winter” that served as a major theme in 20th century science fiction. But particulates only last in the atmosphere for a couple of days. Far more important is the sulfur dioxide that also comes with eruptions. Sulfur dioxide gets converted into sulfuric acid, which then forms aerosols high up in the atmosphere that also serve to block incoming solar radiation for several years after the eruption.

4. ... AND A SNOW DAY IN JUNE.

The volcanic winter that followed Mount Tambora’s historic eruption devastated communities around the world. Ironically, the volcanic winter effect was most heavily felt during the summer months, especially in eastern North America. Residents reported heavy snow falling as late as the middle of June in the northeastern United States, with one report indicating as much as half a foot of snow on June 6, 1816

5. AGRICULTURE SUFFERED. 

The sudden drop in temperatures wreaked havoc on agriculture around the world. In addition to heavy frosts and freezes all but destroying crops in the United States, cold and wet conditions also killed the harvest in Europe and Asia. The widespread crop failures around the world led to famine in many regions of the world, costing countless lives. 

6. DISEASE FLOURISHED.

Not only did the eruption leave weather disasters and famine in its wake, but the combination of the two effects also produced an undesirable result: disease. The cholera epidemic that became the scourge of the 19th century likely began in the wake of Mount Tambora’s eruption, killing millions of people, but it also helped bring us much closer to modern medicine. 

7. THE VOLCANO BROUGHT US FRANKENSTEIN.

The gloomy weather in Europe during the Year Without a Summer prevented tourists from enjoying a quiet vacation during the usually-warm months. One group of literary legends—including Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley), Lord Byron, and John Polidori—took a trip to Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816 and wound up indoors most of the time due to the chilly, rainy conditions. It was during this outing-turned-staycation that Mary Shelley started what became her classic novel Frankenstein; or: The Modern Prometheus, and John Polidori was inspired to write The Vampyre, which later influenced Bram Stoker's Dracula.

8. THE ERUPTION CAUSED EPIC SUNSETS.

Chichester Canal circa 1828 by J.M.W. Turner via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Brilliant sunsets are often the result of sunlight refracting through moisture in the atmosphere, leading to vivid displays of warm colors that often balance against a darkening sky. Particulates in the atmosphere such as dust and volcanic ash can create even more vivid sunrises and sunsets, the latter causing these phenomena to linger for many months after such an eruption. These dazzling sights often inspire wondrous paintings in the time after events like the eruption of Tambora, including the 1828 Turner painting Chichester Canal.

9. THE ERUPTION MAY HAVE LED TO MORMONISM.

One of the more unusual effects of the temporary climate change brought about by Mount Tambora’s eruption is that it may have indirectly led to the creation of the Mormon religion. Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s family was one of thousands that left Vermont during the freakishly cold summer of 1816. The Smith family subsequently settled in New York, where a teenage Joseph would go on to experience the events that led to his publication of the Book of Mormon

10. THE YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER HELPED GIVE US THE BICYCLE.

When crops failed as a result of the extreme weather in 1816, it wasn’t only humans that suffered without food. The failed harvests sent the price of oats soaring, making it harder and more expensive for individuals to afford to keep horses for transportation. Looking for a new way to get around, Karl Drais invented a device called a “Laufmaschine,” or a “running machine.” The contraption is very similar to the bicycle we know and love today—instead of using pedals, however, you operated it with your feet Fred Flintstone-style. 

11. CROP FAILURES FURTHER HARMED A FOUNDING FATHER.

We don’t normally think of leaders of the United States as individuals without money—especially in current times, it’s common for candidates to require vast personal wealth in order to seek the highest office in the land. In the early days of the United States, however, this wasn’t always the case. Thomas Jefferson lived most of his life deeply in debt, and the summer of 1816 didn’t help. That year’s extreme weather caused Jefferson’s crops to fail for several years afterward, heavily contributing to the Founding Father’s already-considerable debt. Jefferson never recovered financially, and he lived the waning years of his life in debt that would equal millions of dollars in 2016.

12. THE COOL DOWN LED TO ARCTIC EXPLORATION.

Weather exists as nature’s way of trying to balance out the atmosphere. When one part of the world experiences extreme weather, somewhere nearby is often experiencing the opposite weather to balance it out. When much of the world experienced a cool-down in the wake of Mount Tambora’s eruption, the Arctic warmed up, and it warmed up enough that it cleared the sea ice and allowed British explorers to map out the area and hunt for the Northwest Passage.

13. CROP FAILURES LED TO AN OPIUM BOOM.

One of the major causes for the drug trade around the world is poverty—when there’s no other way to make money, selling drugs is a profitable draw for many people. After the crops failed in 1816, farmers in places like China were forced to begin growing opium in order to make money. This opium production led to a boom in the opium trade that still exists today.

14. THE ATMOSPHERE QUICKLY RECOVERED.

Thankfully, such a dramatic change in global climate didn’t last very long. The effect of the global cooldown only stuck around for a couple of years after the eruption. Once the particles in the atmosphere began to mix out and settle back to the surface, the amount of solar radiation reaching the surface began to return to normal, allowing weather to mostly return to normal around the world. 

15. IT COULD HAPPEN AGAIN (BUT PROBABLY WON'T IN YOUR LIFETIME).

The proliferation of television shows depicting doomsday scenarios of “supervolcanoes” erupting has led to concern that we’re at risk for another eruption on the scale of Tambora (or even larger). The USGS says that the risk of an eruption at the much-discussed Yellowstone Caldera, for instance, is exceedingly small, many fractions of one percent per year. If we were to experience an eruption like Tambora in modern times, the results would be catastrophic. The global population has dramatically risen by billions of people over the past 200 years, and the consequences of such an eruption occurring in modern times would lead to unimaginable death and devastation. In addition to the eruption itself, simple activities like air travel would grind to a halt as volcanic ash can seize jet engines and cause planes to crash. The global climate change would result in outbreaks of famine and disease practically unseen in modern times.  

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25 Royals in the Line of Succession to the British Throne
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Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

Between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcoming their third child on April 23, 2018 and Prince Harry's upcoming marriage to Suits star Meghan Markle in May, the line of succession to the British throne has become a topic of interest all over the world. And the truth is, it’s complicated. Though Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 92 years old on April 21, shows no signs of slowing down, here are the royals who could one day take her place on the throne—in one very specific order.

1. PRINCE CHARLES

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

As a direct result of his mother being the world's longest-reigning monarch, Prince Charles—the eldest child of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip—is the longest serving heir to the throne; he became heir apparent in 1952, when his mother ascended to the throne.

2. PRINCE WILLIAM

Tolga Akmen - WPA Pool/Getty Images

At 35 years old, odds are good that Prince William, Duke of Cambridge—the eldest son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana—will ascend to the throne at some point in his lifetime.

3. PRINCE GEORGE 

RICHARD POHLE/AFP/Getty Images

On July 22, 2013, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge welcomed their first child, Prince George of Cambridge, who jumped the line to step ahead of his uncle, Prince Harry, to become third in the line of succession.

4. PRINCESS CHARLOTTE 

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

On May 2, 2015, William and Catherine added another member to their growing brood: a daughter, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge. Though her parents just welcomed a bouncing baby boy, she will maintain the fourth-in-line position because of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which went into effect just a few weeks before her arrival, and removed a long-held rule which stated that any male sibling (regardless of birth order) would automatically move ahead of her.

5. PRINCE OF CAMBRIDGE

 Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge depart the Lindo Wing with their newborn son at St Mary's Hospital on April 23, 2018 in London, England
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

On April 23, 2018, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed their third child—a son, whose name has yet to be announced, but who has already pushed his uncle, Prince Harry, out of the fifth position in line to the throne.

6. PRINCE HARRY

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

As the second-born son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince Harry's place in the line is a regularly changing one. It changed earlier this week, when his brother William's third child arrived, and could change again if and when their family expands.

7. PRINCE ANDREW, DUKE OF YORK

Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Prince Andrew is a perfect example of life before the Succession to the Crown Act 2013: Though he’s the second-born son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, he’s actually their third child (Princess Anne came between him and Prince Charles). But because the rules gave preference to males, Prince Andrew would inherit the throne before his older sister.

8. PRINCESS BEATRICE OF YORK

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for WE

Because Prince Andrew and his ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, had two daughters and no sons, none of that male-preference primogeniture stuff mattered in terms of their placement. But with each child her cousin Prince William has, Princess Beatrice moves farther away from the throne. If Beatrice looks familiar, it might be because of the headlines she made with the Dr. Seuss-like hat she wore to William and Catherine’s wedding. (The infamous topper later sold on eBay for more than $130,000, all of which went to charity.)

9. PRINCESS EUGENIE OF YORK

Princess Eugenie of York arrives in the parade ring during Royal Ascot 2017 at Ascot Racecourse on June 20, 2017 in Ascot, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Though she’s regularly seen at royal events, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s youngest daughter spends the bulk of her time indulging her interest in fine art. She has held several jobs in the art world, and is currently a director at Hauser & Wirth’s London gallery.

10. PRINCE EDWARD, EARL OF WESSEX

 Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex leaves after a visit to Prince Philip
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Like his older brother Andrew, Prince Edward—the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip—jumps the line ahead of his older sister, Princess Anne, because of the older rule that put males ahead of females.

11. JAMES, VISCOUNT SEVERN

 James, Viscount Severn, rides on the fun fair carousel on day 4 of the Royal Windsor Horse Show on May 11, 2013 in Windsor, England
Danny E. Martindale/Getty Images

James, Viscount Severn—the younger of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex’s two children, and their only son—turned 10 years old on December 17, 2017, and celebrated it as the 10th royal in line of succession. (The birth of the youngest Prince of Cambridge pushed him back a spot.)

12. LADY LOUISE MOUNTBATTEN-WINDSOR

Lady Louise Windsor during the annual Trooping the Colour Ceremony at Buckingham Palace on June 15, 2013 in London, England.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Because the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 wasn’t enacted until 2015, Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor—the older of Prince Edward’s two children—will always be just behind her brother in the line of succession.

13. PRINCESS ANNE, THE PRINCESS ROYAL

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, visits the Hambleton Equine Clinic on October 10, 2017 in Stokesley, England
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Princess Anne, the Queen and Prince Philip’s second-born child and only daughter, may never rule over the throne in her lifetime, but at least she gets to be called “The Princess Royal.”

14. PETER PHILLIPS

Peter Phillips poses for a photo on The Mall
John Nguyen - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The eldest child and only son of Princess Anne and her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, stands just behind his mother in line. Interesting fact: Had Phillips’s wife, Autumn Kelly, not converted from Roman Catholicism to the Church of England before their marriage in 2008, Phillips would have lost his place in line.

15. SAVANNAH PHILLIPS

Savannah Phillips attends a Christmas Day church service
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

On December 29, 2010, Peter and Autumn Phillips celebrated the birth of their first child, Savannah Anne Kathleen Phillips, who is also the Queen’s first great-grandchild. She’s currently 15th in line.

16. ISLA PHILLIPS

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Isla Phillips and Peter Phillips attend a Christmas Day church service
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Less than two years after Savannah, Peter and Autumn Phillips had a second daughter, Isla, who stands just behind her sister in line. It wasn’t until 2017 that Savannah and Isla made their Buckingham Palace balcony debut (in honor of their great-grandmother’s 91st birthday).

17. ZARA TINDALL

 Zara Tindall arrives for a reception at the Guildhall
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Not one to hide in the background, Zara Tindall—Princess Anne’s second child and only daughter—has lived much of her life in the spotlight. A celebrated equestrian, she won the Eventing World Championship in Aachen in 2006 and was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year the same year (her mom earned the same title in 1971). She’s also Prince George’s godmother.

18. MIA TINDALL

Mike Tindall, Zara Tindall and their daughter Mia Tindall pose for a photograph during day three of The Big Feastival at Alex James' Farm on August 28, 2016 in Kingham, Oxfordshire.
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Zara Tindall’s daughter Mia may just be 4 years old, but she’s already regularly making headlines for her outgoing personality. And though she’s only 18th in line to the throne, her connection to the tippity top of the royal family is much closer: Prince William is her godfather.

19. DAVID ARMSTRONG-JONES, 2ND EARL OF SNOWDON

David Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon
HANNAH MCKAY/AFP/Getty Images

David Armstrong-Jones, the eldest child of Princess Margaret, isn’t waiting around to see if the British crown ever lands on his head. The 56-year-old, who goes by David Linley in his professional life, has made a name for himself as a talented furniture-maker. His bespoke pieces, sold under the brand name Linley, can be purchased through his own boutiques as well as at Harrods.

20. CHARLES ARMSTRONG-JONES, VISCOUNT LINLEY

Margarita Armstrong-Jones and Charles Patrick Inigo Armstrong-Jones
Chris Jackson-WPA Pool/Getty Images

David Armstrong-Jones’s only son, Charles, may be 20th in line to the throne, but the 18-year-old is the heir apparent to the Earldom of Snowdon.

21. LADY MARGARITA ARMSTRONG-JONES

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) talks with Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones (C) as her father David Armstrong-Jones (L), 2nd Earl of Snowdon, known as David Linley
HANNAH MCKAY/AFP/Getty Images

Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones, the youngest child of David Armstrong-Jones and his only daughter, is also the only granddaughter of Princess Margaret. Now 15 years old (she'll turn 16 in June), Lady Margarita made headlines around the world in 2011 when she served as a flower girl at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

22. LADY SARAH CHATTO

Lady Sarah Chatto, the daughter of Princess Margaret arrives for her mother's memorial service
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Lady Sarah Chatto, Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones’s only daughter, is the youngest grandchild of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. In addition to serving as a bridesmaid to Princess Diana, she is Prince Harry’s godmother.

23. SAMUEL CHATTO

Lady Sarah Chatto (L) and her son Samuel Chatto (R) leave a Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Lord Snowdon at Westminster Abbey on April 7, 2017 in London, United Kingdom
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The first-born son of Lady Sarah Chatto and her husband, Daniel, has a long way to go to reach the throne: He’s currently 23rd in line.

24. ARTHUR CHATTO

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For better or worse, Sarah and Daniel Chatto’s youngest son Arthur has become a bit of a social media sensation. He's made headlines recently as he regularly posts selfies to Instagram—some of them on the eyebrow-raising side, at least as far as royals go.

25. PRINCE RICHARD, DUKE OF GLOUCESTER

Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester makes a speech during the unveiling ceremony of London's first public memorial to the Korean War on December 3, 2014 in London, England
Carl Court/Getty Images

At 73 years old, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester is the youngest grandchild of King George V and Queen Mary. Formerly, he made a living as an architect, until the 1972 death of his brother, Prince William of Gloucester, put him next in line to inherit his father’s dukedom. On June 10, 1974, he officially succeeded his father as Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Ulster, and Baron Culloden.

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10 Fascinating Facts About Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Today marks what would have been the 101st birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the pioneering jazz singer who helped revolutionize the genre. But the iconic songstress’s foray into the music industry was almost accidental, as she had planned to show off her dancing skills when she made her stage debut. Celebrate the birthday of the artist known as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, or just plain ol’ Lady Ella with these fascinating facts.

1. SHE WAS A JAZZ FAN FROM A YOUNG AGE.

Though she attempted to launch her career as a dancer (more on that in a moment), Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz enthusiast from a very young age. She was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and truly idolized Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. “She was tops at the time,” Fitzgerald said in 1988. “I was attracted to her immediately. My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it. I tried so hard to sound just like her.”

2. SHE DABBLED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AS A TEENAGER.

A photo of Ella Fitzgerald
Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Fitzgerald’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. Her stepfather was reportedly abusive to her, and that abuse continued following the death of Fitzgerald’s mother in 1932. Eventually, to escape the violence, she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. While she had been a great student when she was younger, it was following that move that her dedication to education faltered. Her grades dropped and she often skipped school. But she found other ways to fill her days, not all of them legal: According to The New York Times, she worked for a mafia numbers runner and served as a police lookout at a local brothel. Her illicit activities eventually landed her in an orphanage, followed by a state reformatory.

3. SHE MADE HER STAGE DEBUT AT THE APOLLO THEATER.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to make a little pocket change from the tips she made from passersby while singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, she finally got the chance to step onto a real (and very famous) stage when she took part in an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater on November 21, 1934. It was her stage debut.

The then-17-year-old managed to wow the crowd by channeling her inner Connee Boswell and belting out her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won, and took home a $25 prize. Here’s the interesting part: She entered the competition as a dancer. But when she saw that she had some stiff competition in that department, she opted to sing instead. It was the first big step toward a career in music.

4. A NURSERY RHYME HELPED HER GET THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION.

Not long after her successful debut at the Apollo, Fitzgerald met bandleader Chick Webb. Though he was initially reluctant to hire her because of what The New York Times described as her “gawky and unkempt” appearance, her powerful voice won him over. "I thought my singing was pretty much hollering," she later said, "but Webb didn't."

Her first hit was a unique adaptation of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she helped to write based on what she described as "that old drop-the-handkerchief game I played from 6 to 7 years old on up."

5. SHE WAS PAINFULLY SHY.

Though it certainly takes a lot of courage to get up and perform in front of the world, those who knew and worked with Fitzgerald said that she was extremely shy. In Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá—who played with Fitzgerald in Chick Webb’s orchestra—explained that “she didn't hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music … She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig."

6. SHE MADE HER FILM DEBUT IN AN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MOVIE.

As her IMDb profile attests, Fitzgerald contributed to a number of films and television series over the years, and not just to the soundtracks. She also worked as an actress on a handful of occasions (often an actress who sings), beginning with 1942’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy, a comedy-western starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

7. SHE GOT SOME HELP FROM MARILYN MONROE.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Fitzgerald said in a 1972 interview in Ms. Magazine. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard … After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Though it has often been reported that the club’s owner did not want to book Fitzgerald because she was black, it was later explained that his reluctance wasn’t due to Fitzgerald’s race; he apparently didn’t believe that she was “glamorous” enough for the patrons to whom he catered.

8. SHE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO WIN A GRAMMY.

Ella Fitzgerald
William P. Gottlieb - LOC, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Among her many other accomplishments, in 1958 Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. Actually, she won two awards that night: one for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, and another for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

9. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL.

On June 27, 1991, Fitzgerald—who had, at that point, recorded more than 200 albums—performed at Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she had performed at the venue, and it ended up being her final performance.

10. SHE LOST BOTH OF HER LEGS TO DIABETES.

In her later years, Fitzgerald suffered from a number of health problems. She was hospitalized a handful of times during the 1980s for everything from respiratory problems to exhaustion. She also suffered from diabetes, which took much of her eyesight and led to her having to have both of her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. She never fully recovered from the surgery and never performed again. She passed away at her home in Beverly Hills on June 15, 1996.

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