Marilyn and Ella: A Tale of Friendship and Courage

The Meeting of Legends

Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, often dubbed ‘The First Lady of Song,’ holds a significant place in American music history. Winning 13 Grammy awards and selling over 40 million albums, her influence on jazz and popular music is undeniable. Yet, like many black performers in the 1950s, Fitzgerald faced substantial racial discrimination, which restricted her access to prominent venues and opportunities.

However, a surprising advocate came to her aid—Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn’s Hidden Depths

Marilyn Monroe is typically remembered for her beauty and iconic film roles, but her intellectual curiosity and empathetic nature are often overlooked. Monroe was an avid admirer of Fitzgerald’s music, using Ella’s recordings as a learning tool to improve her own singing. Rumor has it that Monroe’s vocal coach once instructed her to listen to an album of Fitzgerald’s Gershwin recordings 100 times consecutively for inspiration.

The Mocambo Incident

The Mocambo, a top-tier Hollywood nightclub, was the place to be seen for the elite, including Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, and Lana Turner. Despite her talent, Fitzgerald was barred from performing there due to racial prejudices.

In an extraordinary act of solidarity, Monroe intervened. She personally called the Mocambo’s owner and secured a booking for Fitzgerald, promising to occupy a front-row table every night if he agreed. Monroe knew that her star power would attract the press and ensure the club’s decision would be a profitable one.

A Career-Defining Week

Fitzgerald recounted later, “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt… She told the owner the press would go wild, and they did. Marilyn sat front table every night, and after that, I never had to play a small jazz club again.” This one-week engagement at the Mocambo was pivotal, opening doors for Fitzgerald to perform in more prestigious venues and elevating her career.

Lasting Impact

Monroe and Fitzgerald’s relationship extended beyond this professional support, blossoming into a genuine friendship. Monroe’s influence on Fitzgerald’s career is a testament to her character—an advocate for equality and a woman ahead of her time.

Mutual Influence

Interestingly, Monroe’s admiration for Fitzgerald was not one-sided. Studying Fitzgerald’s technique, Monroe developed into a competent singer herself, although her musical endeavors were often overshadowed by her film career and the infamous « Happy Birthday, Mr. President » performance.

The story of Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald is a powerful reminder of the impact that support and solidarity can have. Monroe’s courageous stand against racial discrimination helped pave the way for Fitzgerald’s success, highlighting a lesser-known chapter in both their lives. Their friendship is a beautiful example of how personal actions can foster significant change.

For a taste of Fitzgerald’s unparalleled talent, watch her performance of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. It’s a vivid reminder of why her music continues to resonate with audiences around the world.

This piece is a tribute to the extraordinary, yet often unrecognized, bravery of Marilyn Monroe and the indomitable spirit of Ella Fitzgerald. Their story is not just about music but also about breaking barriers and standing up for what is right.


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