Research seminar: '‘Face the Music’ and Scat: Ella Fitzgerald and African-American Jazz women’s performative resistance: occupying and confronting silence’

Wednesday 9 November 2016, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Rommi Smith (poet, playwright, Hedgebrook Writing Fellow), Jenni Molloy (musician)

On the 13th February 1960, just fifteen years after the end of World War II, against the backdrop of the Holocaust, Ella Fitzgerald performed Mack the Knife as part of a live recording at The Deutschlandhalle, Berlin. During the performance, Fitzgerald forgot Berthold Brecht’s lyric and thus the official words to the song.

Improvising a scat-based, lyrical performance to German-Jewish composer Kurt Weill’s music, Fitzgerald authored an alternative female-led performative narrative to the song’s dominant masculine narrative. The recording of Fitzgerald’s performance, is entitled Ella in Berlin and was entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame in recognition of its historical and cultural significance.

Indeed, Fitzgerald’s performance was an act of plurisignation: a performative challenge to Fascism and oppression; a stand against silence and silencing; and an assertion of memory against forgetting. Fitzgerald, as Jazz singer and performer, and an African-American woman, was in creative dialogue and solidarity with Weill, as composer and Jewish man and Brecht as a Socialist writer denounced by the Nazis.

This lecture as performance, (part of Smith’s interdisciplinary, practice-led PhD inquiry) considers the Black, female singer as civil rights’ activist, reflecting upon how Fitzgerald’s pitch-perfect tuning and timing, disrupted the ghost- frequencies of Nazism and Fascism.


Rommi Smith is a poet, playwright, performer who has held major writing residencies for organisations ranging from The British Council to the BBC. She is the inaugural poet-in-residence for Keats House and the inaugural writer-in-residence for Parliament, the first such appointment in British and Parliamentary history. Currently a John Barnard Scholar at the School of English, University of Leeds, Rommi is in the second year of her interdisciplinary, practice-led, PhD utilising poetry and performance as creative methodologies to celebrate and re-present Blues and Jazz women.

Jenni Molloy is a critically acclaimed jazz double bassist and composer, known for her live and recording project 'Bach ReLoaded Trio +'. She has collaborated on numerous theatre, poetry and improvised music projects, internationally. A much in demand jazz bassist, Jenni is also a Goju Ryu martial artist, running the Tsuyoi Kokoro Dojo in Leeds 

Location: Rymer Auditorium