Sunday Treat for Black History Month – Marilyn and Ella

sundae2 Marilyn Monroe is only rarely credited for her considerable intellect, or her compassion and courage. But during Black History Month, we would be remiss not to take a look underneath her exterior at the beauty that was also within her, and how she helped play a role in opening up musical venues to black performers. One incident involved a singer whose recordings Marilyn studied over and over for inspiration and emulation.

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This singer was none other than the fantastic Ella Fitzgerald, who, like other black performers of her time in the 1950’s, was denied admission to a number of hotels, restaurants, and clubs. Her white manager, Norman Granz, insisted that all his musicians be treated equally, but there were many owners that refused to accede to his demands.

The Mocombo was a popular Hollywood club frequented by many movie stars, and it was Marilyn’s favorite. And Marilyn had been listening to Ella for years. But Ella was not welcome at the Mocambo. In Ella’s own words in a later recollection:

I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt … 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.”

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[The Mocambo closed in 1958 a year after the death of the club operator and co-owner, Charlie Morrison, with whom Marilyn bargained a couple of years before.]

If you have any question why everyone was so entranced with the talent of Ella Fitzgerald, check out this video of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. You won’t wonder anymore! (And the way she holds that last note, OMG!)

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14 Responses

  1. It does sound like Marilyn Monroe was ahead of her time!

  2. Great story… and I loved the video!

  3. I had no idea that Marilyn was so far ahead of her time – what a great story!

  4. I loved this post!! There was so much more to Marilyn than what most people thought. That video gave me goosebumps on top of goosebumps from the very first note. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

  5. I’ve never known any of this. I can now say that I have learned something today! I love knowing that there was more to her than just a gorgeous face.

  6. I never knew that! I will bring it up from now on any time anyone criticizes Marilyn Monroe to me (which, really, I can’t imagine anyone would but if they do I will be prepared). Ella Fitzgerald was amazing.

  7. I’m not a fan of MM’s nor do I understand the popular American obsession with her, but I enjoyed this story and will therefore consider myself a fan of her’s for one night. Thanks for sharing this anecdote!

  8. Marilyn was so underestimated just due to her stunning looks. I love the photo that you included as it really shows a genuine admiration on her face!

  9. oh, I love Ella…and not just because we share a last name.

  10. Oh fascinating! I have to say, I didn’t expect this about Marilyn. She probably doesn’t get her fair due.

  11. This was wonderful to read, thank you for posting it! Another sign that Marilyn was better than how she was portrayed at the time (though I’m guessing this was publicised).

  12. I did not know that story. How wonderful!

  13. I’ve read a few books about Marilyn Monroe, but I never heard that story.

  14. Marilyn, the untold story. I love it.

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