Ella Fitzgerald Doc Charts Difficult Course of the First Lady of Song

Singer standing at a mic
Jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald

The documentary “Ella Fitzgerald: Just One Of Those Things” will be presented as a virtual cinema release by Carnegie Science Center and the Harris Theater, starting Friday.

The First Lady of Song’s contributions to jazz, swing, bebop and the American Songbook are given testimonials by Smokey Robinson, Tony Bennett and son Ray Brown Jr., among others. The violinist Itzhak Perlman sums her up: “When Ella turns a phrase, it’s magic.”

The skinny teen runaway who had aspired to be a dancer never had it easy, despite fame that left every other artist scrambling for (a-tisket, a-tasket) “that little yellow basket.”

When she first sang for a skeptical crowd on an open-mic night at the famed Apollo theater, says dancer Norma Miller, “She shut us up so quick you could hear a rat piss on cotton.”

Fitzgerald went on to become the queen of Billboard’s jazz charts, with two No. 1 hits and 18 top 10’s, but couldn’t walk into the front door of many of the rooms she played.

Featured in the documentary is a story often told by Fitzgerald, of how Marilyn Monroe helped the singer’s career and also desegregated entertainment at a Hollywood club.

Monroe called the owner of Mocambo, which had never booked a black act. Monroe said if he would feature Fitzgerald, the actress would take a front table for all to see. Unable to resist the publicity and crowds clamoring to get a glimpse of the starlet, the club booked Fitzgerald, and Monroe showed up every night.

Tickets for the documentary are available through www.thetullfamilytheater.org, https://carnegiesciencecenter.org and https://trustarts.org.

‘Love Me Like You Should: The Brave and Bold Sylvester’

The documentary short “Love Me Like You Should: The Brave and Bold Sylvester,” is available on YouTube as part of Amazon Music’s Pride History playlist. The film by Lauren Tabak examines the career of singer Sylvester James Jr., better known as one-name wonder Sylvester, who busted through the envelope of gender fluidity during the disco era.

While delivering 1970s and ’80s hits such as “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” upped the ante of queer visibility in mainstream music.” His influence was deeply felt by artists such as Billy Porter, who is interviewed for the documentary at you tube.

(Article written by Sharon Eberson)