Ella Jane Fitzgerald (April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996) was an American jazz singer often referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz and Lady Ella.
While Fitzgerald appeared in movies and as a guest on popular television shows in the second half of the twentieth century, her musical collaborations with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and The Ink Spots were some of her most notable acts outside of her solo career.
These partnerships produced recognisable songs like “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, “Cheek to Cheek”, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”, and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”.
Apparently in the 50s a popular nightclub Mocambo in Hollywood were Frank Sinatra made his Los Angeles debut in 1943, and it was frequented by the likes of Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Lana Turner. Ella Fitzgerald was not allowed to play at Mocambo because of her race. Fortunately for Ella, she had a powerful and unlikely benefactor, Marilyn Monroe, who of one of her biggest fans made a telephone call to the nightclub that quite possibly changed the path of her career for good into sending the elevator back down for her.
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt…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.” – Ella Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald had an influence on Monroe as well, but years prior to the Mocambo phone call. Monroe was studying the recordings of Fitzgerald, it was rumoured that a vocal coach of Monroe instructed her to purchase Fitzgerald’s recordings of Gershwin music which she listened to it a numerous of times in a row. Continued study of Fitzgerald actually revealed that Ella turned Monroe into a relatively solid singer for about a decade, but those years were overshadowed by her famous “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” tribute song to JFK in 1962 and her dress-lifting gusts of wind plus her movies.
In 1993, Fitzgerald capped off her sixty-year career with her last public performance. Three years later, Ella died at the age of 79, following years of decline in her health.
After her passing, Fitzgerald’s influence lived on through her fourteen Grammy Awards, National Medal of Arts, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and tributes in the form of stamps, music festivals, and theater namesakes.
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