If asked – who played an important role in Ella Fitzgerald’s career – music connoisseurs would probably mention names like Chick Webb, Louis Armstrong, Norman Granz and Dizzy Gillespie, none would come up with Marilyn Monroe.
Ella started singing in the 30ties when segregation laws were stringent in many United States. No one was spared. Musicians, no matter how popular they were, were allowed to perform only in limited to small night clubs they had to enter through the back door. It was similar with most restaurants and hotels and the police was allowed to interrupt a show and take the musicians in without much to explain.
During one tour in the 50’s under the management of Norman Granz, before Ella’s performance with an philharmonic orchestra in Dallas, the police entered the venue and took in all the musicians. They came into Ella’s dressingroom where Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jaquet were shooting dice and simply arrested them. “They took us down,” Ella later recalled, “and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph.”
At that time, the night club Mocambo was the most popular venue in Hollywood. Frank Sinatra had his Los Angeles debut at Mocambo in 1943 and among frequent guests were Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe who had the status of an icon in the 50ies.
Ella was not allowed to perform at the Mocambo because of her rase, but one phone call from her fan should change the path of Ella’s career fo good.
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt”, Ella remembered. “She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately. If he would do it, she would come to the club every night. Marilyn implyed to him the reaction of the press and so was it. The owner said yes and the press got crazy. 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.”
Ella Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917-June 15, 1996) or Lady Ella, as the press called her, among many prizes she won were 13 Grammy Awards including one for Lifetime Acheivement in 1967, National Medal of Art awarded by the Kennedy Center and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was honored with the Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award and the “Magnum Opus” Award which hangs in the office of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.