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Did Ella Fitzgerald ever have racism in her life? If she did, how did she overcome it?
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When Ella joined Chick Webb’s band at the age of 18 in 1935, they played to many segregated audiences. In 1938, they were only the third black band ever to play New York’s huge Paramount Theatre after Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway.
In January 1939, Ella and the band played the Park Central Hotel in New York. They were the first black band to be booked in years. The New York Age reported that “race prejudice has cropped up out of the darkness” and the indefinite engagement ended shortly afterwards.
In 1944, Ella and the Ink Spots toured the Southern states. Once, Ella couldn’t find a seat in the blacks-only train carriage and after hours of standing finally found a seat in the whites-only carriage. The conductor tried to move her out but a group of white sailors insisted that she sit with them.
In 1945, several members left Dizzy Gillespie’s band when they were on tour in the South with Ella because they were sickened by countless episodes of blatant racial prejudice. The tour lost a lot of money.
In 1947, despite having had hit records, Ella was seldom heard on radio which was also true for most black artists. Metronome magazine’s journalist reported that “when I suggested Ella for an opening on a big network show, the answer I was given ; ‘She wouldn’t look so good for pictures’”.
In 1949, Ella played the Monte Carlo Club in Miami and found that on her success would depend the future booking of all black artists at that venue. Fortunately she was a big success and black artists continued to be booked, to much controversy in the rest of the South.
A big change also happened in 1949 because Norman Granz became Ella’s agent. Granz was the biggest agent of jazz musicians and was able to insist clubs adopt a desegregation policy or they would not be able to hire his musicians. Clubs had no option but to comply with him. He threatened to sue in Kansas City when one concert was blocked on racial grounds. Granz single-handedly introduced integrated audiences to many cities in the South. He also forced radio stations to hire blacks like Ella or they would not get any of his musicians.
In 1952, Ella and her maid were in Amsterdam’s Victoria hotel when two American soldiers made a point of avoiding them. It was so blatant that everyone else joined Ella and even the singer turned his back on the soldiers.
In 1954 Ella suffered what Granz called blatant, institutionalised racism. Ella and her party were forced from their airplane seats in Hawaii to make way for a white group of people. Ella had to miss her concerts in Sydney. Granz was outraged and sued Pan-Am for an undisclosed but huge sum of money.
In October 1955, Ella played the Music Hall in Houston, Texas. Five of the city’s vice squad decided to show Granz what they thought of his liberal views. They tried to plant drugs on the musicians and threatened Granz with a gun pushed in his stomach when he stopped them. The most the police could do was arrest them for playing dice.The papers made fun of the police and reported that “Miss Fitzgerald, wearing a decolette gown of blue taffetta and a mink stole, was one of the most handsomely dressed women ever to visit the Houston Police station”. Ella said “when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph”.
In June 1957, Ella was the first black artist to ever play New York’s famous Copacabana nightclub, although she was only billed second. She was such a huge success that she headlined in the future and the success opened up all the clubs in Las Vegas for her.
In 1959, the Bell Television show did not want to show Ella’s band because it was mixed. Granz was now Ella’s manager as well as her agent and he refused to alter the personnel so the TV company put Vaseline on the lens so you could not tell what colour the musicians were. Granz was so angry he took out a two-page ad in Variety and exposed the racial prejudice of the television company.
In January 1967, The Los Angeles Times voted Ella one of nine Women of the Year. Ironically, Ella was being prevented at that same time from living in a white-only neighbourhood of Beverly Hills in the very city where she was being honoured.
Stuart Nicholson’s definitive biography says Ella “defied the traditional expectations of a black person in a predominantly white society. She endured discrimination with dignity and gave herself equally to black and to white audiences who took her to their hearts”.
Ella never resorted to recreational drugs or alcohol like most jazz performers. She was never a Nazi sympathiser and she never met Hitler, as reported elsewhere.
As for how she overcame racism, she was shielded in part by all the men in her bands who always looked out for her, and from 1949 until her death in 1996 she had Norman Granz’s formidable power and affection to shield her from everything that would upset her.
what song plays in the beginning of Shane Mosley’s Las Vegas Training on 24/7 episode 4?
What is the name of the song that is played at the beginning of Shane Mosley’s Las Vegas Training in HBO’s Mayweather Mosley 24/7 at approx. 18:38?
Chris Go to this site to find songs from TV shows.
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