Marilyn and Ella: 20th Century Women

Ella Fitzgerald, the renowned jazz singer, had her fair share of battles to fight. While she was beloved by her community (and is widely considered one of the greatest singers to this day), the fact that she was African American closed a lot of doors to her professionally. (People somehow often forget that the 50’s were amazingly racist and sexist). It’s always been upsetting that people’s prejudice got in the way of her true talent.

marilyn and ella The iconic actress Marilyn Monroe had to overcome her own stereotype of being the first “sex symbol.” Although her beauty may have been what got her noticed and what made her famous, she honestly wanted to be a great actress and  to be treated with respect for the woman that she was. She wanted all women to be treated with respect and to be encouraged to be bold.  However, especially posthumously, her beauty and “sexiness” still tend to overshadow what she believed in and what she stood for.

How are these seemingly different two women related? Well, Marilyn Monroe was a huge fan of jazz and a huge fan of Ella Fitzgerald in particular. Their fates became intertwined in what  is the now famous account of the Mocambo Club in Los Angeles. The Mocambo was Ella Fitzgerald’s favorite club, but she was not allowed to perform there since she was a woman of color. At the time, African-American musicians were only allowed to play second-rate, run-down clubs. When Marilyn Monroe heard about this, she contacted the manager of the club and demanded that Ella be allowed to play there. Since Marilyn was so famous, she promised to be at the club every night while Ella was performing. Since this would give the club such fabulous publicity, how could the manager possibly say “no”?

Now, Marilyn did not demand Ella’s presence for her own entertainment just because she was a fan. She sincerely did not believe it was right that Ella couldn’t perform there because of how she was born. I think this is a great example of being an “ally”. Marilyn was in a position to bring up Ella and support her, and she did it without striving for personal gain.

That first night at the Mocambo, Marilyn and Ella became friends (how cool is that, right ?!). Although they both had very different lives and are known for very different things, their stories are similar. They both came from underprivileged circumstances and abusive childhoods, and they both overcame their struggles and lived out there dreams, leaving their mark on history.

Marilyn and Ella’s story show us how to be inclusive, standing up for what we believe in and standing up for each other. We can often feel like life is a competition, and we can lose sight of what we really stand for, losing people in the process. Instead we should be like Marilyn and Ella, raising each other up, gaining supportive friendships, and overcoming adversity.

Briana Harley, currently a music composition major in Southern California, plans to pursue a career in anything and everything under the vast umbrella of music, which includes indie/folk singer, symphony conductor/composer, rock stardom and film scoring. You can't ask her what her favorite genre of music is because she doesn't have one. She adores all music from Beethoven to The Beatles. When she's not composing or performing she is a "textbook" nerd-fighter, anglophile, & fangirl of all things science fiction, comic books, fantasy, supernatural, history and literature. Follow the play-by-play of her random crazy happenstances on twitter, tumblr, instagram, Facebook and her website brianaharley.com

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