Ella Fitzgerald was already considered the undisputed queen of jazz by the 1950s, wowing audiences with her breathtaking vocals. However, racial divides still shut her out from certain stages. It would take an unconventional partnership with Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood’s Golden Girl, to help change all that.
Jazz Royalty Meets Hollywood’s Golden Girl
In 1954, fate brought these two icons together in Hollywood, at a jazz session at the Tiffany Club. On the surface they seemed like an odd pair – Ella with her sophistication behind the mic and Marilyn lighting up rooms with her bubbly charm and beauty. However, they soon discovered a shared love – Ella’s swingin’ jazz. Marilyn was in awe of Ella’s gift, seeing her as more than just an entertainer, but an artist. This shared love for music soon bonded the women in a most unexpected way.
Marilyn Takes a Stand
One venue in particular, the posh Mocambo club in LA, refused to let Ella grace its stage due to its whites only policy. But Marilyn saw this as unfairly silencing pure talent. She decided to take matters into her own hands, personally calling the owner.
Marilyn laid down an ultimatum – if Ella was given a chance to dazzle audiences there, Marilyn would be front and center every night to cheer her on. The owners realized they couldn’t risk losing the club’s most famous patronage. Not to mention the huge press coverage!
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
That first show proved monumental! Thanks to Marilyn’s advocacy, attitudes slowly began to change at the once closed-off venue.
Despite coming from very different worlds, Ella and Marilyn felt a deep connection. Marilyn used her influence to advocate for civil rights alongside Ella. Their bond showed how those in the spotlight could leverage their platform to empower others and confront injustice. Though their time was brief, the impact of their friendship helped smash barriers and prove that talent transcends any single aspect of who someone is.
My very favorite person and I love her as a person as well as a singer, I think she’s the greatest and that’s Ella Fitzgerald.Marilyn Monroe
In the end, it only took one impromptu meeting to spark a relationship that aided Ella’s career immensely and showed that allies can come from anywhere. Their legacy reminds us that meaningful change often blossoms where least expected.