Would Ella Fitzgerald be famous today?

I have often thought about this and not because 
I don't really listen to modern music.

I don't.

I have no idea who any of the 'artsts' are that are out today. And sure, I bet some of them have a sliver of talent, but let's face it. Most, and I mean that seriously, is marketing.

That's not to say Ella was not a marketed product, of course she was, but Ella had something else, talent. Serious unprecedented amazing talent. Couple that with the golden age of jazz, where it was the popular music of the time, where song writers and musicians were just as popular with the public as movie stars, and you have a recipe for amazing things.

I guess that brings me back to my original question. 
Could Ella be famous today? Or rather, could a young Ella make it in music today? She didn't write songs, or act much, or do anything but her job, singer. Is that enough today, or is the multi tasking necessary to make it now?

My short answer is no, she could not. Combine the possibility of yesterday with the atmosphere of her talent and still, only by a few chances was she given a shot. Why? Because even back then Ella was considered too ugly.

I'm not looking for the politically correct statement of "I find her beautiful." I'm sure a lot of us do, but come on, the only way we judge beauty in the USA is, "Would I sleep with her?"

That's the gauge of female artists today. Men for the most part are still able to escape that standard. Not women. You have to be fuckable (pardon my french) in order to sell a record. Hell, Madonna is still doing it, and she's been making 'music' for 30 years.

So where does talent come in when talking about today's music? Is it as important as looks in this industry, or can you just be auto-tuned, have a modicum of rhythm and be able to cut a best selling record? Considering that I really don't listen to much modern music, I'm going to have to say the latter.

It frustrates me because we could be loosing so many Ellas of every genera of music simply because they are not too easy on the eyes. Ella's beauty was her voice. I frankly think it out shined even Miss Monroe, one of the most overrated women of the era, in my opinion. And I'm not just saying that because of the inner/outer beauty dynamic. I honestly don't get the obsession with Marilyn (and please don't fill up the comments with theories of why she was so great).

We tout that inner beauty is way more important than outer beauty, but we rarely practice that in what we do, what we buy, or who we like. I miss the opportunity of going to buy music and not seeing a half clothed young girl straddling something with something else dipping off of her, falling off of her, or nothing on her. THAT'S how you sell music! 

I miss real talent in the industry.


  1. You should check out Adelle. She's quite refreshing amongst all the pop stars. But I have to agree that Elle was amazaing.

  2. Ella was amazing. They way she could interpret a lyric. But I don't thin Margret Whiting, Jo Stafford or even Nat King Cole (who in my opinion was the greatest singer ever) would have been successful now days. Seems like in this day and age, you need to do vocal gymnastics with all those riffs in order to be considered a singer. Like you said, it's a shame, because I'm sure we are missing out on some wonderful talent.

  3. This is a great question. I think that the answer is a qualified "yes but." Ella would be well-known, but probably only within her field, like many jazz artists, Broadway performers, and cabaret singers (even the ones who record) today.

    Opportunities for mainstream exposure simply don't exist: the theaters,nightclubs,musical variety shows like Ed Sullivan, musical films, etc. Ella was mainly interpreting the popular music of her era, and while many of those songs are still with us, and there are young singers like Michael Buble, who still record them, they're the songs of yesteryear and don't have mainstream appeal, certainly not among the kind of kids who listen to Lady Gaga.

    I don't think it's so much because Ella wasn't thin or beautiful; look at the huge success of Susan Boyle. It's, rather, because the opportunities are fewer. Then again, there's American Idol!

    Then again, try to imagine a woman like Oprah having the success she enjoys today in the 1940's or 50's. Or consider the indignities that Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Dorothy Dandridge and, no doubt, Ella herself had to suffer. They weren't allowed to be patronize many of the nightclubs they performed in.

    As far as sex appeal and marketing, when you consider who had mainstream success in the past, the ordinary-looking Ella's were the exception. And again, I think it's because you could build a successful career and achieve fame by performing in all the nightclubs and theaters that people frequented in the days before TV.

    Great topic, Shelley!

  4. I think Peter is right in certain aspects. While there are more opportunities for African Americans in general, the music industry has changed. There are no small labels who can afford to take a chance on a fringe artist, there are no dinner clubs with live music, ect. However, this issue of "fuckable" is a completely different issue. About a year ago, I was listening to a Howard Stern-knock off talk radio show. They were listening to Adele, then decided to Google her. The hosts had both raved about the song, but as soon as they saw her pictures and deemed her "unfuckable" they could no longer stand to listen to the song and spent the next 20 minutes ranting and raving about how she should have pulled a Milli Vanilli and gotten a "hot chick" to pretend to be her. I think women's rights have come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.

  5. Ella's talent managed to outshine everything, but it wasn't without difficulty. Generally (there were a few exceptions) a woman's place in jazz or a big band orchestra was the lead singer: and most band leaders wanted the face of their group to be an appealing one. Chick Webb took a chance on Ella, but it certainly wasn't without reservations.

    I have to wonder if she wouldn't have had an easier time of it today. Although it wouldn't be with the American Songbook we love, she'd be singing Hip Hop or R&B.

    Regardless of the era, she's my favorite singer hands down. And I think she's beautiful :)

  6. Ella famously nearly didn't get a chance to sing, because the band leader didn't think she was pretty enough. Once he heard her, that didn't matter anymore. Her talent became her beauty.

    I totally get the mix of the time is gone in the way it is now in music. That mix of culture and renaissance I mentioned isn't in the music culture anymore.

    As for Susan Boyle, her novelty *IS* that she isn't attractive. It's part of her overall gimmick. I've tried to listen to Adelle, and it just does not appeal to me. It's a badly synthesized pop version of watered down R&B. And I don't think she has that great a voice. Beoince (sp) has a suckie voice too, but she's successful because her lifestyle and looks are not part of her branding.

    And don't get me started on over singing!!! That's a major reason I can't stand modern music.

  7. When Miss Ella comes up in conversation regarding 'who is the next?', I just use the following rubric: would I name my child after (new contender)? These friends of mine aren't naming their girls after Cinderella, that's for sure.

    So much talent and intelligence in one person is daunting to compare. It's not just one or the other, and don't get ME started on the appearance vs the voice.

    I think we only get one. Would she have made it now? She was so much a product of the music of her time (and a really loooooong and varied time it was)(think on THAT one, she spanned great distances of style) whatever a New Miss Ella would do would not be the same.

    I'm an opera gal, m'self. I can wade in the water here, but I need my floaties to go beyond the shallow end. I do know from style wars though. I do believe in update/remake/remodel. Life is change. Much like ...well, sewing.

  8. What a great response, SJ Kurtz!
    Wow everyone, you all are so thought provoking! Great stuff keep it coming!

  9. I never thought of Ella as ugly...ever. Do I live in a bubble?
    Would she make it today as a younger, up-to-date Ella? Greatness always finds a way.
    I Like a wide variety of music, but I tend to be an 80's new wave kinda gal. I find classical more fun to play than to listen to and I agree today's r and b and all the extraneous caterwauling (runs of notes without any purpose other than to impress one's self) grating. I'd much rather have 60-70 r and b any dang day of the week over this current crop of auto tuned nightmares. Ella's good, but my daddy preferred Ms. Etta James...just sayin

  10. Oh, I assume you know the story behind that pic of her and Ms Monroe? The two of them were good acquaintances/ friends and Monroe thought that Ella would rock the house in the night club they were sitting in, but the owner rarely put non-whites on the stage and didn't think Ella would fill the seats. So Monroe promised to sit in the front row every night that Ella was on stage and allow that to be publicized. The night club owner agreed, and the house was sold-out every every night and the crowd loved the singing.

  11. Even modern music cannot deny pure talent. However, commercialism will choose sales over talent. Electronics can duplicate or fill in what talent is lacking. We have become a visual people. Ella sang when the world was into live shows, orchestras and vinyl records. There were no videos, choreography. I work with children and I am amazed that today's children can't sit still to listen to a book being read to them but they can watch tv for hours. I can listen to Ella, Sarah, Billie, Dinah, Etta, Nancy, etc. for hours. My teenaged daughters say it boring but watch music videos all day. That to me is boring, fake, dehumanizing, and mind numbing.I like synj-munki's story. That happened, I'm sure, over 50 years ago. Things haven't changed much. Be true to your mission. Everyone won't get it. But those that do will thank you. THANK YOU.

  12. Synj-munki, I didnt know the history of the photo, thanks. Im not bouting Ella and Marylyn against one another, I hope it wasn't taken that way.

    And Robin, you are right. Ella started in an age where TV was not really in every home just yet. The radio was still the main source of communication. Print media.

    I do feen marketing is first and foremost done over talent. Talent requires an educated ear. I think people don't want to think a lot about their entertainment. I guess Im different because I do! :)

  13. nah, didn't think you were bouting them :) I just thought you'd be interested in their history.

  14. One of the retrospectives I heard about Whitney Houston said a similar thing, that is that she had both outstanding talent AND beauty, and it's that combination that allowed her to become such a star (and also an excellent show-biz pedigree, but that's an aside). Sad, but true.


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