Non-Fiction | 1 March 2018An Inside Look at Ella Queen of Jazz, by author Helen Hancocks Share article facebook twitter google pinterest There was a story recently about Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer that caught my eye as I was trying to write this. Both are high-profile, critically acclaimed, successful actresses who became friends after starring together in The Help. But when working on another project together, Chastain, a vocal critic of the gender pay gap in Hollywood, was nonetheless unaware of just how much less a woman of color makes to that of a white woman. It was Spencer who brought this issue to Chastain’s knowledge, and Chastain then figured out a way to use her own privilege to help out Spencer: she tied their contracts together so that Spencer’s pay would be on an equal footing with hers. You can hear Spencer tell the story at 19m30s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1375&v=e63gxorVT-g This made me think back to when I first started to research Ella Queen Of Jazz. While researching Ella Fitzgerald’s life, I came across this quote: “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt…” Fitzgerald once said, “She was an unusual women – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it”. This really struck a chord with me. I was intrigued by what might have brought these women together, and set out to learn more about this relationship between two extraordinary women, both of whom came through their own struggles to get to where they were even before the story in Ella Queen Of Jazz begins. Ella Fitzgerald was one of the greatest singers of all time – you just have to listen to the range of her music, especially the one note samba on youtube, to understand why she is still known as the queen of jazz. That ability to change her voice to fit a song, and the way she enjoyed herself on stage was one of the things that I tried to convey in my artwork. Apparently it was Ella’s music that Marilyn Monroe’s vocal coach told her to study. Marilyn Monroe was the most famous actress of her era, and probably still as iconic today. Monroe is best known for playing dumb blondes but I really don’t think she was as stupid as she played, and Ella’s words about her being ahead of her time ring true. The small but significant part she played in Ella Fitzgerald’s life proves that. Marilyn Monroe was well aware of how she could use her fame to not only shape her own career but also that of other people. She really was ahead of her time – not only did she form her own production company, but she could see she was in a position of privilege that most women in her day were not. By using her stardom, she was able to get the biggest club in town to book Ella a gig that in turn brought her music to a bigger audience. This act might not seem like much – but it helped Ella’s career immensely. Ella herself said she didn’t ever need to play a small jazz club again. The more I have found out about Ella Fitzgerald over the course of this project, the more my admiration has grown for her and all she overcame and achieved in her life. I tried to absorb as much of her music as possible, (I could listen to Manhattan all day long). I hope the colorfulness of the songs and the era have been brought to life. Researching this period of design alongside the story was especially fun. This book was written before the Women’s Marches started or the growing awareness of pay inequality was being questioned, and it feels like a timely story to be telling and talking about. Over the last year as these movements have taken hold, I’ve been inspired and awed by the example of the women who show tremendous courage to step forward with their stories and help and support each other. It’s wonderful to see how women are working together, and the impact this is having on a younger generation. It gives you hope that, although we aren’t there yet, something good will come out of it all. The story of Ella and Marilyn – like the story of Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer – can help us to remember that whenever we are in a place of power or privilege – even if we aren’t film stars! – we should figure out how to help out others. ELLA QUEEN OF JAZZ is my tribute not just to an incredible singer, but to the wonderful, world-changing things that can happen when sisters come together and help each other. Helen Hancocks is the best-selling author/illustrator of three picture books to date: William and the Missing Masterpiece, William Heads to Hollywood, and Penguin in Peril. She lives and works in the UK. Her book, Ella Queen of Jazz tells the inspiring, true story of how a remarkable friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe was born – and how they worked together to overcome prejudice and adversity. Take a look inside the book at the video below. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: AU: Ella Fitzgerald sang the blues and she sang them good. Ella and her fellas were on the way up! It seemed like nothing could stop her, until the biggest club in town refused to let her play… and all because of her colour. But when all hope seemed lost, little did Ella imagine that a Hollywood star would step in to help. The inspiring, true story of how a remarkable friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe was born – and how they worked together to overcome prejudice and adversity. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.