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Movement throughout the Black community is brilliant and reflects within every single action and word from every individual. From the early 19th century to now, music has been a big influence on the protesting and liberation of the Black community. As basic human rights have been and still are being denied to the African American people, they have been forced to take a stand and through music, they have the ability to protest in another outlet for all to hear. From the beginning of Black people being in America discrimination had been a big part of their history. Women throughout this history have been the biggest part of the movement against the struggles of being discriminated towards. Women in jazz, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Mary Lou Williams, have used their voices to pose their stand on certain issues through sound and by using their outlet to shed light on racial and gender discriminations.
Ella Fitzgerald in her time was known for breaking boundaries for racial discrimination through her jazz poetry and overall voice in the music industry. Though people primarily know Ella Fitzgerald from her rise to fame in the jazz industry with her beautiful voice and scat singing as well, she is a decorated advocate for the Civil Rights Movement. Her voice had elevated her to join the male greats in jazz such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Through touring the country, she went to cities that a Black woman would not even think of going during 1950 – 1960. It was the time of harsh segregation and cruelty. This ensured her discomfort around the venues, yet the people who are so keen on being racist had welcomed her due to her undeniable vocal talent.
Throughout her career, her manager Norm Granz was fighting for Civil Rights to ensure his clients’ equality and keeping the shows clean and with no signs of discrimination. During Ella’s time on tour, they both made sure that the labels that had segregation forward writing was taken down. The small gesture to help everyone at the venues and different clubs feel safe and equal at the integrated show on October 7th, 1955. After the show came to an end, the police stormed the dressing room of Ella’s and arrested her and the other colored musicians. They were tossed around and were seen through the eyes of the policemen as criminals. Ella Fitzgerald remembered that even with all that discrimination and hatred toward her and her people, the police still asked her for her autograph. This did not stop Fitzgerald and her team from getting equal opportunity to practice their craft to the masses and use their voices to break the chains that discrimination has put the Black community in.
At one point, Fitzgerald had become overwhelmingly popular that Marilyn Monroe had called the Mocambo nightclub in Los Angeles and used her celebrity status to get Fitzgerald to play at that specific venue. The deal entailed that the club would allow her to play such as long as Monroe would come to every concert and sit in the front row. The nightclub would gain the most publicity from having Monroe there and they outweighed the hit from racial discriminators not wanting to come into the building. This had aid Fitzgerald into reaching out to more people than she could have ever realized. On a larger scale, Ella Fitzgerald was awarded in her life the American Black Achievement Award, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Equal Justice Award, and other achievements due to her push for equal rights with the help of her supporters, friends, manager, and general peers. She is seen in the Black community as an icon with her transformative powers through jazz.
Duke Ellington was a vastly popular piano jazz musician and alongside, he and Louis Armstrong revealed an equally powerful woman named Mary Lou Williams. As women in the male-dominated industry, Ella Fitzgerald and Mary Lou Williams both took the world’s stage and used their voices as a beacon for two movements to impact the rights of women and Black communities. The women struggled to have equal rights as men in the workplace throughout times in politics. The gender rights movements had at the time only helped women of the white skin color to vote and gain property rights. Black women were not as fortunate to reap the benefits of these movements. Though they had participated in the movements themselves, they had to fight harder than the average white woman. The exclusion had a new wave of music, jazz, to hit the scene and these women had used it to their full advantage. The Jazz and Swing era had begun and had created this voice for the Black community.
Mary Lou Williams struggled on the racial discrimination more so than that of the gender discrimination, however, it is noticed throughout the time that women with high earning jobs and high standings in society are more likely than not to be unaffected by the sexual inequality. Especially since music through these times did not resonate through the class systems as well as they did other community movements. As the feminist movement went up on the rise, the Black feminists were shut out. There was a ‘sisterhood’ of the middle-class white women feminists who did not care to include Black women such as Ella Fitzgerald and Mary Lou Williams. From that aspect, most women see Mary Lou Williams as more of an advocate for the Black community than the female community. She became largely known for her engagement with the youth in Black communities teaching them the ‘lost heritage of jazz’ as jazz started to die down late in her career. She as an influential jazz musician she could have done much more than she did, but to the Black and female communities themselves, no matter if you are active or not of being an advocate, if you are successful and are apart of the community than it is an advancement for all.
Both of these Black women were affected by the cultural normative for their gender and were often placed in a box always having to show off that they have the talent and can keep up with the men at all times. Usually, public opinion was always that ‘women do not have abilities that are equal to men’s abilities.’ The music Mary Lou Williams had produced and composed shared her opinions and thoughts on discrimination, segregation, and Black Pride. The jazz hit Black Christ of the Andes (St. Martin de Porres) has lyrics singing to God about how everyone is equal and everyone is born and made with flesh all the same but spare her people. She sings on how the Black community must be spared from all of this hurt and pain they have been through. Mary Lou Williams calls out to God singing that He saves her people, the people God made in his image. Now called a hymn, this original jazz song spoke to thousands of people across America showing off how she felt about the Black community and how they are the children of God as well as the white man, so why can they not get along and be equal to each other.
Jazz for the Black women had proven to be a new culture for the Black community itself. It became the go-to art form for America and it gives soul to the making of the U.S.A. As Jazz is its creation that came from America and not straight from Africa makes it an American tradition. Mary Lou Williams had believed that jazz was not affected by African music at all, that jazz was pulled from the roots and cultures of America. Her view was that jazz was a special look into what makes Black American women. She succeeded in her craft and later on went back to other Black American women jazz musicians to ensure their success and that the Black community can continue to thrive in this field. The reacting of their biggest potential was what kept Mary Lou in the industry for so long.
Both Ella Fitzgerald and Mary Lou Williams had extended their names and reputations to not only strong women in jazz but as advocates in the Black women empowerment movements. Although they were not welcomed into the middle-class white women only feminism club, they accomplished much to the feminist movement itself by challenging sexual discrimination of their gender by being well-over successful in both economic and social successes. Although some of the actions they have taken were not directed against the patriarchy, they aided in the effort.
For their conscious efforts of Black pride and against racial discrimination, Ella Fitzgerald and Mary Lou William had worked hard to achieve in the environment they were given. The Black community throughout the history of America has not had many chances to shine, but through jazz, music for the Black community had become an outlet for them to express their opinions in a subliminal and non-subliminal way. With each Black musician female or not, every lyric they write, the people will hear it as apart of the movement. Ella Fitzgerald and Mary Lou Williams will forever serve as advocates and role models for females, Black females, and the Black community.
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