Watch This: The Shattering Legacy of Ella Fitzgerald

In the ’70s when home cassette decks were just hitting the scene, one manufacturer of the palm-sized magnetic miracles had a brilliant idea for an ad campaign. The great singer Ella Fitzgerald was enlisted to make a television commercial in which she sang a note at the exact pitch that would shatter glass and then the stunt was replicated with a recording of her voice – on Memorex tape of course. The commercial was a great success, the slogan “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” became part of the culture, and Fitzgerald was brought back again and again to reprise her shattering triumph.

Here are a selection of the commercials. You might not want to play these near your windows.



In fact the commercials became so popular that this absolute Giant of music found herself recognized in the street not for her extraordinary talent, her reinvention of popular song, or her decades of tireless work as an ambassador of jazz, America’s greatest contribution to musical culture. Rather, she was (and savor the way she says it in the following interview) “the Memorex lady.”

All of this is a lot of fun, and we’re thrilled that the success of the campaign gave Fitzgerald some mad money to enjoy life with, but the fact is, that it’s only the tiniest episode of a life full of triumph over early adversity, commitment to social advocacy, resistance to discrimination, and – oh yeah, some of the most beautiful and thrilling music ever made by anyone, ever.

That part we can’t really share with a short YouTube video, but fortunately some good folks have made a new film all about Ella Fitzgerald’s life and art. It is called ELLA FITZGERALD: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, and it opens in the AFS Virtual Cinema on Friday, June 19. Watch the trailer here, and do yourself a favor, watch this film.

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