Marilyn and Ella

During the 1950s, one of the most popular, trendy nightclubs in Los Angeles was the famed Mocambo. Located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, the Mocambo was the place to “see and be seen”, where glamorous A list movie stars gathered to hear big bands and headlining musical acts. But the Mocambo was also a racist club which refused to book black performers. That is, until the awesomeness that was Marilyn Monroe decided to do something about it, in support of her good friend Ella Fitzgerald.

Marilyn was at the pinnacle of her fame in the 50s. And clubs like the Mocambo relied almost exclusively on the attention brought by the presence of movie stars. It meant paparazzi, write ups in gossip columns, and tons of publicity. Marilyn Monroe personally called up the owner of the Mocambo and lobbied hard on Ella’s behalf. Marilyn made a deal with him, that if he booked Ella Fitzgerald for a lengthy stint that she would attend every night, sitting in the front row for every performance. The owner agreed. Ella Fitzgerald was booked at the Mocambo – the first black performer ever at the club – and Marilyn Monroe made good on her word. She was there every night that Ella sang, just like she promised, sitting in the front row.

Ella Fitzgerald never forgot what her Marilyn did for her, taking such a strong stand in an era still steeped in racial segregation. Marilyn Monroe was an avid supporter of the civil rights movement. She was many cool things that people don’t realize. And from this story, we see that she was clearly a fantastic friend. Girl power all the way! :-)

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt; it was because of her that I played the Mocambo. 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 time. And she didn’t know it.”  - Ella Fitzgerald

For today’s “Music Monday”, I’m going to do something I’ve never done on this blog before. With images and videos I never post the same thing twice. But today I will. This video has already appeared on Museworthy, and I’m bringing it back for an encore. Because it’s sooooo amazing. After Frank’s Sinatra’s introduction, sit back and enjoy the pitch perfect vocals, impeccable phrasing, musical artistry, and heartfelt sincerity of the great Ella Fitzgerald, or “Marilyn Monroe’s BFF”. To all the young American Idol generation female singers out there who obsessively clog up their melodies with filler, filler, and more filler, squeezing 800 syllables into one note, and screaming and shouting in a misguided attempt to be “expressive”, “interpretive”, and show “feeling”, take note of Miss Ella. THIS is how you sing a song. Prepare for chills.

11 thoughts on “Marilyn and Ella

  1. Monica Bowen says:

    I adore Ella Fitzgerald. What vocal control and manipulation! She’s utterly amazing. I used to aspire to be a jazz singer like her. Anyhow, I wasn’t aware of the history regarding her and Marylin Monroe. How fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

    I also loved the video, too. My sister (who is also a jazz fan) were just exchanging Ella Fitzgerald videos the other week. Have you heard Ella do covers of songs by the Beatles? I normally am not a fan of Beatles covers (I’d rather hear the originals), but Ella pulls it off superbly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jloZXseyYrI and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jloZXseyYrI

    • artmodel says:

      Monica,

      Great to hear from you again! Thanks for those YouTube links, I actually had never heard Ella’s Beatles covers before. The woman could do anything with her voice!

      I’m really happy that you are a big fan of Ella Fitzgerald and jazz vocals. In the Body and Soul video, the way Ella climbs up and down the melody is simply stunning. And her rendition is imbued with such sensitivity. It’s also just a great song.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  2. Monica Bowen says:

    Oops! I linked the same video twice. Here is a cover of “Can’t Buy Me Love”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGOXLZEtdKA

  3. Bill says:

    Great video, thanks. I have to admit, though, that I had a huge crush on Marilyn Monroe when I was a kid. Actually, I think I still do :-)

    I think she was one of the great art (photographic) models of all time — so much so that PBS did an American Masters episode on this side of her:
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/monroe_m_bios.html

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      I am one of the most heterosexual women on the planet and even I have a crush on Marilyn!! Besides being so sexy, she was also a much more interesting and complex person than she’s given credit for. She had wit, brains, and a good heart.

      That American Masters episode looks amazing. I’m surprised I haven’t seen it, as I’ve seen the majority of those shows. How did I miss it? Thanks for the link!

      Claudia

  4. tony says:

    Johnathan Schwartz said about three weekends ago “Ella should have been claimed as a national treasure” its a shame.
    Ella makes my eyes well up when she sings .from the Gershwin Song Book. Her delivery takes me somewhere else, thatI can’t put into words. Nice post miss.

    • artmodel says:

      Mr Tony! Glad you stopped by Museworthy, friend.

      Jonathan Schwartz plays a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, which is awesome. I agree with you about her delivery. She always makes a song her own, which is what great singers do. I’m sure you noticed what she did, musically, in the Body and Soul video. It was genius,

      Thanks for your comments! And I got your email :-)

      Claudia

  5. What a great story. I’d never heard it before. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Sophie Farigoul says:

    this is so cool. Ella was one of the first singing lesbians to be proud of her sexuality and I get tingles up an down my spine when I hear her smooth, sweet voice. Opps, I am getting carried away with myself. Sorry.

    • artmodel says:

      Sophie,

      I’ve never heard anything about Ella Fitzgerald being a lesbian. I know she was married for several years to Ray Brown, bassist with DIzzy Gillespie’s band, and later to some Norwegian guy. She was known to be extremely shy and private about her personal life. Are you sure you’re not confusing her with someone else?

      Claudia

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