Tag Archives: Ella Fitzgerald

Women in Jazz Month 2019

March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of women to jazz. As a lifelong activist, I want to celebrate women who used music as a platform for social change.

Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is well-known.

Ethel Waters’ “Supper Time” is not as well-known. Written by Irving Berlin especially for Waters, the song is about a wife’s grief over the lynching of her husband.

Ella Fitzgerald broke down racial barriers. On October 7, 1955, the “First Lady of Song” performed with the Jazz at the Philharmonic in Houston. The concert tour was produced by her manager Norman Granz, an ally in the fight for racial justice. The Music Hall had “Negro” and “White” labels on the bathroom doors. Shortly before the show, Granz removed the labels.

Houston’s segregationists were angry about Granz’s attempt to integrate the show by refusing to pre-sell tickets. Some whites asked for a refund rather than sit next to an African American. After the first show, the police stormed Fitzgerald’s dressing room and arrested her, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and other musicians on trumped-up charges.

Ella Fitgzerald - Arrested - October 1955

With the intervention of her friend, actress Marilyn Monroe, Fitzgerald was the first African American to perform at the legendary Mocambo nightclub.

Ella Fitzgerald - Marilyn Monroe

Nina Simone’s outrage over the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church emboldened civil rights activists.

Simone’s celebration of black excellence inspired a new generation of civil rights activists, including the writer.

Ella Fitzgerald@100

March is “Women in Jazz Month.” It’s also “Women’s History Month.” As the National Museum of American History notes, Ella Fitzgerald was about intersectionality before the term was coined:

Fitzgerald succeeded in the male-dominated field of jazz. By overcoming the odds, breaking barriers, and setting precedents, she paved the way for other women to follow her inspiring example.

The centennial of the “First Lady of Song” is being celebrated from the Apollo Theater to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

First Lady of Song - Ella Fitzgerald at 100

On March 23, the Apollo Theater, where Ella made her debut on an Amateur Night in 1934, is hosting “Ella! A Centennial Celebration.” The community event features a panel discussion and musical reflection by the author and star of “Me & Ella,” Andrea Frierson, and her trio.

Ella - Apollo Theater

From March 24-25, the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University will present CELLABRATION, a two-day symposium to celebrate the most influential vocalist in jazz history.

Ella Fitzgerald - Institute of Jazz Studies

A phenomenal woman, Ella Fitzgerald will be celebrated for generations to come.

Jazz 100 Celebrates Four Icons

This year marks the centennial birthdays of Ella Fitzgerald, Mongo Santamaría, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. The jazz visionaries will be celebrated on Friday, September 30 at 8:00 p.m. at the Merriam Theater.

jazz100

Anne Ewers, President & CEO of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Art, said in a statement:

Philadelphia is a revered jazz city and this presentation gives us a one-of-a-kind opportunity to celebrate the music of four jazz icons in their centennial year. Touting artists from around the world, Jazz 100 will showcase the unifying fibers of this genre.

Over the course of their careers, the jazz legends performed in clubs and venues in Philadelphia.

Jazz 100 Collage

Dizzy’s Philly roots are deep. Born in South Carolina, his family was part of the Great Migration. For a time, he lived at 637 Pine Street. He was a member of the house band at the Earle Theater. After a tiff with management, Dizzy became a regular at the Downbeat Club, which was located within shouting distance of the Earle Theater.

Downbeat Club Collage

Dizzy was a founding member of Union Local 274. The black musicians union was located at 912 S. Broad Street.

An iconic television commercial is one of my earliest memories of “The First Lady of Song.”

One of my most memorable experiences was attending Thelonious Monk’s funeral in 1982 at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City. Musicians paid loving tribute to Monk with version-after-version of “Round Midnight.”

Jazz 100 brings together an all-star ensemble of musicians, including Lizz Wright (vocals), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone, vocals) and Chris Potter (saxophone, woodwinds).

Jazz100 Musicians

The tribute concert “showcases the individual artistry of each icon and the powerful unifying threads between them.” Tickets can be purchased at the Kimmel Center Box Office or online at kimmelcenter.org (save over $45 with promo code “Dizzy”).