Marilyn and Ella

As a website devoted to Ella Fitzgerald avers:

Dubbed ‘The First Lady of Song,’ Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums.”

But in spite of her great talent, and like other black performers in the 1950’s, she was at first denied admission to a number of hotels, restaurants, and clubs.

But Ella had one advocate she didn’t even know about: Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe is only rarely credited for her considerable intellect, or her compassion and courage. But it 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 such incident involved Ella Fitzgerald, whose recordings Marilyn studied over and over for inspiration and emulation. [It was rumored that a vocal coach of Monroe instructed her to purchase an album of Fitzgerald’s recordings of Gershwin music, and listen to it 100 times in a row.]

The Mocombo was a popular Hollywood club frequented by many movie stars, and it was Marilyn’s favorite. As Open Culture reports:

If you wanted to play to an influential crowd in Hollywood back in the 1950s, you had to play the Mocambo, the Sunset Strip nightclub frequented by the likes of Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Lana Turner, Bob Hope, Sophia Loren, and Howard Hughes. But at the time, a singer of the reputedly scandalous new music known as jazz didn’t just waltz onto the stage of such a respectable venue, especially given the racial attitudes of the time.”

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.”

[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.]

The show only lasted for a week, but it helped launch Fitzgerald’s career. And she remained friends with Marilyn Monroe.

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!


About rhapsodyinbooks

We're into reading, politics, and intellectual exchanges.
This entry was posted in Black History Month, Music, Sunday Treat and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Marilyn and Ella

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

  2. Great story… and I loved the video!

  3. Lisa says:

    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. Sandy says:

    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. Jenny says:

    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. Richard says:

    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. Jenners says:

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

  11. Charlie says:

    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. bookingmama says:

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

  14. stacybuckeye says:

    Marilyn, the untold story. I love it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.