Tag Archives: Ella Fitzgerald

Jump for Joy: Duke Ellington and Social Change

Legendary composer, bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington was not an outspoken activist. His activism was expressed in benefit concerts, non-segregation clause in his contract and his music. In the 1960s, Ellington was asked when he was going to compose a civil rights piece. His reply, “I did my piece more than 20 years ago when I wrote Jump for Joy.”

Duke Ellington-Jump-For-Joy

Debuted on July 10, 1941, at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, the musical addressed African American identity and representation. For Ellington, showcasing black excellence was an act of resistance to racial caricatures. Although Jump for Joy received rave reviews, it ran for only 122 performances. The musical never made it to Broadway. The “Great White Way” was not ready for Ellington’s unapologetic blackness.

Nearly 80 years later, audiences still jump for joy when they hear songs from the musical, including “I’ve Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good) and “Rocks in My Bed.”

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.