In 1947, Ella Fitzgerald joined Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic and toured the globe. Granz required promoters to ensure that there was no “colored” or “white” seating at the venues on the tour. He made certain that Fitzgerald received equal pay and accommodation. If the conditions were not met, shows were cancelled. There were many obstacles, even for the most popular African-American artists. Once, in Dallas, touring with the Philharmonic, angered by Granz’s directives, the police barged into Fitzgerald’s dressing room where band members were shooting dice, and arrested everyone. Fitzgerald:
“They took us down to the jail and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask me for an autograph.“
Black musicians, regardless of popularity, had to enter and leave clubs, restaurants and hotels through a backdoor. During the 1950s, one of the most popular venues was The Mocambo in Hollywood. Frank Sinatra made his L.A. debut at Mocambo in 1943, and it was frequented by Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Fitzgerald was not allowed to play at Mocambo because of her race. Then, one of her biggest fans made a telephone call. Fitzgerald:
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt… 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. 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.“
I think I know such an awful lot about the Great American Songbook, but then I will be introduced to some gem that has eluded me for decades. Recently, my husband’s bidness partner brought me a recording of When I Get Low, I Get High by Ella Fitzgerald. I thought the lyric was: “When I Get HOME, I Get High”, which brought special relevance for me. I didn’t know this “Harlem High Life” tune before, but now it is a favorite. It is nice to have something old that is something new.
Certain artists just seem to reach through the restraints of listeners and fans of specific genres. It does’t make a difference if the bulk of your music collection is Heavy Metal, Rock, R&B, Funk, Hip Hop, Gospel, Show Tunes, Folk, Opera, or Symphonic Music; every music aficionado should always have, at the very least, a Greatest Hits package of Patsy Cline, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Sinatra, and Fitzgerald. Don’t you agree? Who would you add?