Ella Queen of Jazz


Ella Queen of Jazz leads the orchestra formed by Chick Webb. Despite their great reputation and Ella’s wonderful voice, American nightclubs of the 1950’s are unwilling to book African- American performers. However, Ella’s voice and the skills of the orchestra have attracted the admiration of one of the world’s most famous actresses. Can Ella’s friendship with Marilyn Monroe overturn a racist decision? Will having Marilyn sit at the front of the audience each night for a week drawn in crowds and ensure a success?

Like The Girls this is a story of friendship that extends beyond the incident highlighted. However, it’s also a story from history of civil rights and fairness such as The Undefeated. Further, the fact that two such icons of music and cinema are involved is startling. Helen Hancocks tells this story simply and clearly. This, and the clear, bold images make Ella Queen of Jazz impactful and essential.

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Ella Queen of Jazz

Helen Hancocks

(Frances Lincoln)

After Ella Fitzgerald takes over Chick Webb’s band upon his death,  it becomes Ella and her orchestra, it seems as though the world is her oyster. After all, her voice is a triumph, while the sound is sublime. Furthermore, they are ‘taking their music up and down the country’. However this is 1950’s America, with many states unprepared for and unwilling to book African- American musicians.
Yet Ella’s music has reached people all over the world, including ‘one very special friend’.  Marilyn Monroe volunteers to sit at the front of the audience at a top nightspot every night for a week. After all, won’t this encourage the owner to book the singer and her orchestra? Then again, how has this pair become friends? Doesn’t it seem unlikely?  What do they share with each other? Finally, what will be the outcome of Marilyn’s proactive support of her friend?
Alongside this story is its history and the impact of Ella Fitzgerald on the listening public. Helen Hancocks tells her story clearly and directly. We love the modern pictures and bold colours. Ella Queen of Jazz merits reading, sharing and knowing about, rather like its two trailblazing subjects.


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