Smorgasbord Music Column 2022 – William Price King meets the Jazz Icons – Ella Fitzgerald Part Two – the 1940s -Oh Lady Be Good

It is eight years since William Price King joined Smorgasbord to share music across the genres. It is six years since we have featured the icons and delighted to showcase them again in 2022.

Welcome to the second part of the Ella Fitzgerald story.  Ella rightly holds the crown as Queen of Jazz and her contribution to music was mirrored by her influence not only for women’s rights but also the civil rights movement during the 50s and 60s. Last week we looked at her early life and performances and now we move into the 40s and 50s.

The story continues…

Last week we looked at Ella’s early start in life that was filled with many challenges. However, following her win in a talent contest in 1935 and her subsequent collaboration with drummer and band leader Chick Webb, her career went from strength to strength.

The New York Times later wrote that Chick was, “reluctant to sign her….because she was gawky and unkempt, a ‘diamond in the rough’.” But, he offered her the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University. She began singing regularly with his orchestra throughout 1935 at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom and Ella recorded several hit songs with them, including “Love and Kisses” But it was her 1938 expanded version of the 19th century nursery rhyme, “A Tiskit a Taskit,” a song she co-wrote with Al Feldman (later known as Van Alexander) that brought her wide public acclaim. Some One Ella Fitzgerald  

Chick Webb died in June 1939, and his band was renamed Ella and her Famous Orchestra with Ella taking on the role of nominal band leader. She recorded nearly 150 songs with the orchestra before it broke up in 1942 and Ella began her solo career.

Her first signing was with the well-established Decca label and Milt Gabler became her manager. It was a time of amazing productivity within the Jazz industry and Ella recorded with some of the most popular performers of the day including Bill Kinney & the Ink Spots.

They recorded ‘I’m Making Believe” and “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”. Both of these recordings reached #1 on the US Pop Charts. Fitzgerald teamed up with The Ink Spots again in 1945 to record “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “That’s the Way It Is”.

Milt Gabler brought Ella together with Jazz Impresario and producer Norman Granz and she performed regularly with his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. Norman would eventually take over as Ella’s manager and remained so to the end of her career; she remained at Decca until signing for Verve Records the label that Norman Granz created around her. In the meantime she would record many hits for Decca in the company of the great musicians and singers of the day including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie.

With the demise of the Swing era and the decline of the great touring big bands, a major change in jazz music occurred. The advent of bebop led to new developments in Fitzgerald’s vocal style, influenced by her work with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band. Dizzy was a Jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer who together with Charlie Parker became a huge influencer in the development of bebop and modern jazz.

It was in this period that Fitzgerald started including scat singing as a major part of her performance repertoire. In vocal jazz, scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all. Scat singing is a difficult technique that requires singers with the ability to sing improvised melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium.

Her 1945 scat recording of “Flying Home” arranged by Vic Schoen and recorded with Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker, would later be described by The New York Times as “one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the decade….Where other singers, most notably Louis Armstrong, had tried similar improvisation, no one before Miss Fitzgerald employed the technique with such dazzling inventiveness.”

Her bebop recording of “Oh, Lady Be Good” in 1947, written in 1924 by George and Ira Gershwin for the Broadway show of the same name, was similarly popular and increased her reputation as one of the leading jazz vocalists.

On the touring circuit it was well-known that Ella’s manager felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians, regardless of their color. Norman refused to accept any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants or concert halls, even when they travelled to the Deep South. Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman’s principles barged backstage to hassle the performers.

They came into Ella’s dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone. “They took us down,” Ella later recalled, “and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph.”

Norman wasn’t the only one willing to stand up for Ella. She received support from numerous celebrity fans, including a zealous Marilyn Monroe. This from the Marilyn Monroe Video Archives.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Ella later said. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Next week we look at all the songbooks that Ella Fitzgerald recorded in her career.

Additional Sources
Ella Fitzgerald

I hope you have enjoyed this tribute to one of the icons of jazz and will join us again next week for the next part of the Ella Fitzgerald Story.

William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.

His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.

While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.

Blog– IMPROVISATION William Price King on Tumblr – Buy William’s music: William Price King iTunes – FacebookWilliam Price King – Twitter@wpkofficial
Regular Venue – Cave Wilson


Thank you for dropping and as always William would love to receive your feedback… thanks Sally.

62 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Music Column 2022 – William Price King meets the Jazz Icons – Ella Fitzgerald Part Two – the 1940s -Oh Lady Be Good

  1. Hi William and Sally, a most interesting post. I didn’t know this about Marilyn Monroe and it is intriguing. Such a tragedy how her life turned out. Although, people who die young like her, James Dean and Princess Diana are immortalized in peoples mind the way there were at the time of their deaths. You don’t achieve that if you live a long life.

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  2. I came across this Marilyn story about a year ago and was stunned by it. It’s become the thing that represents her most when I think of her now, replacing my earlier view of her as simply a talented and troubled performer. Some beautiful tracks here. Many thanks! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ella Fitzgerald was such a powerhouse singer! I love seeing her featured here. What an amazing career she had during a time when women, especially black women, were discounted. Thank you both for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Really interesting! My folks had that Ink Spot album so I am familiar with it, but I never know about the Marilyn Monroe connection. There was a lot more to that woman than people suspected! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh my gosh! The awesome Ella. Grew up with her records and loved her. The Ink Spots – another great musical memory from childhood. An aunt loved them and used to play their records all the time. Charlie Parker, Marilyn etc…Dizzy. Oh such fab memories. I thought Marilyn was fab, favourite movies include Some Like it Hot. THANKS for the memories both. Awesome.

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  6. Thank you, William and Sally. This opened my eyes even more to one of my favorite singers. Ella was an extraordinary woman. 💗

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine Weekly Round Up -April 18th – 24th 2022 – #Contributors, Hits 1993, Podcast, Stories, Poetry, Book Reviews, health and Humour | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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