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An "Is it Ella or is it Memorex?" advert from 1973. Memorex At 50 hide caption

toggle caption Memorex At 50

it be the stuff of legends: an city legend and a jazz legend combining right into a legendary promoting campaign.

In 1970, the Leo Burnett advert company in Chicago had an innovative theory for selling Memorex's new line of blank cassette tapes. They'd prove the old fable that an opera singer may shatter a wine glass with a high note — after which claim a Memorex cassette had such exacting sound precision that its recording of the singer could ruin a pitcher, too. Leo Burnett made a pair television commercials with this theme that includes tenor Enrico di Giuseppe and soprano Nancy color. The tagline: "Memorex Recording Tape ... reproduction so true it may well shatter glass."

It became a superb sufficient beginning, however opera become too elitist for Memorex's larger aims. After first reaching out to audiophiles — early cassette promoting turned into positioned in magazines like hi constancy and Stereo review — the company wanted to target a broader demographic with television classified ads aired all through football games on CBS. The glass-breaking cassette crusade mandatory a spokesperson whose musical fashion embodied a extra informal brilliance.

Ella Fitzgerald - Turning The Tables extra on Ella Fitzgerald from Turning The Tables Turning The Tables: 8 Women Who Invented American Popular Music tune Turning The Tables: eight girls Who Invented American common track

Enter Ella Fitzgerald: jazz legend, gold normal for vocal excellence and paradigm of high constancy sound, due to her influential mid-century recordings. song historian Judith Tick, who's finishing a booklet about Fitzgerald, says the singer's profession become an ideal healthy for the campaign, as she became standard on the time "no longer best as a legend, but as a treasure-bearer of yankee tradition." Her giant physique of labor began in the Thirties, peaked within the Forties with the bullseye pitch accuracy, vocal latitude and sheer originality of her scat singing innovation, after which peaked once more together with her definitive Fifties and early Sixties songbook interpretations of Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter and others.

In a 1985 interview, Fitzgerald remembered her Memorex audition at the Algonquin inn in manhattan: "They requested me to do the ending of 'How excessive the Moon.' I simply stored singing, 'high, high the moon,' doing the ending. And when the glass broke, they noted, 'this is the one!' Then I obtained the job. ... lots of people say, 'Did you in reality spoil the glass?' We needed to show that. that they had legal professionals there."

So in 1972, at age 55, Ella Fitzgerald grew to be the spokesperson for Memorex cassettes. These classified ads got here at a crucial juncture in each Fitzgerald's profession and in jazz. After a long time as the First woman Of tune, Fitzgerald confronted a time when traditional jazz was declining in popularity. however because the Memorex campaign grew to be an institution, it fueled a profession revival that helped to prolong her relevance in new ways, and finally placed her handy off the baton to the subsequent era.

within the campaign's earliest tv spots, Fitzgerald scat sings, hits a high notice and shatters a goblet. As countless sound engineers and a 2005 Mythbusters segment have proven, breaking a glass would not have been an unlikely feat for Fitzgerald, especially along with her voice amplified. Most glasses resonate at a frequency round high C; with Fitzgerald's two-octave latitude, hitting that word would have been no issue. just as crucial to Fitzgerald's authenticity within the campaign is her unreconstructed core-aged look: her wig, round body — and in some spots, cataract-correcting eyeglasses — lend warmth and conviction to her televisual vogue. the enduring Fitzgerald comes throughout as so real within the commercials that her mere presence authenticates the ad's claim of a Memorex cassette recording breaking a glass. "Is it are living or is it Memorex?" the ads ask. What matters is that it's Fitzgerald onscreen.

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Ella Fitzgerald's Memorex ad from 1974. Memorex At 50 cover caption

toggle caption Memorex At 50

Dizzy Gillespie famously spoke of that Fitzgerald may sing back the rest he performed on the trumpet. If the industrial's message hinged on her skill to depart a goblet in shards, her scat singing carried weight in the spot, too. "It ability improvisation, it capacity freedom," says Tick. "So if you have Ella scat sing, the epitome of this remarkable improvisatory skill, it simply reinforces anything about jazz that speaks to younger individuals and speaks to all and sundry: it be a magical craft. And that magic about scat includes over to the magic of the glass shattering." Fitzgerald's scat singing additionally played to the theory of patrons making their own recording copies and mixes, improvising their personal musical experiences onto clean cassettes.

In 1974, Memorex introduced a new television spot and attitude for the Fitzgerald crusade. count number Basie, Fitzgerald's ancient bandmate, sits along with his back to a recording sales space, listening for the change between Fitzgerald's live voice amplified via audio system and a Memorex tape recording of it. "You gotta be kidding, I cannot tell!" he says, as if in on an elaborate joke. Fitzgerald or cassette recording? If jazz royalty like count Basie can't inform and doesn't care, why may still we? buyers can only deduce that playing a Memorex tape is interchangeable with having Fitzgerald sing of their buildings. Hearkening again to man vs. desktop fables, to John Henry in opposition t the steam-powered drill, the message during this spot is that human expression and cassette expertise can come collectively for the win.


It could not appear quainter nowadays: Memorex's appeal to audio sophistication with a tv listening stunt, all to promote a recording layout it really is lengthy been outdated. however veteran recording engineer Jim Anderson says or not it's now not so improbable that count number Basie or his Memorex industrial successor, jazz arranger Nelson Riddle, might have failed the "Ella or Memorex" test. The trick is, they're no longer in the room with Fitzgerald. Anderson says the musicians were seemingly within the handle room, listening to a "reside playback of the musicians in the studio, or a tape of that same efficiency" — which, he argues, may well be "pretty convincing." He provides that count number Basie and Nelson Riddle had been over 50 on the time; after lengthy careers spent in front of reside bands, and their listening to likely "wasn't as sharp because it would were ... 20 or 30 years earlier than that." With cassette corporations promoting ever-enhancing fine all through the 1970s — noise reduction, corrections to "wow and flutter," these pesky tape fluctuations in pitch and tone— the expertise would have seemed cutting-aspect to many buyers.

In his spot with Fitzgerald, Nelson Riddle lacked Basie's ironic twinkle, displaying some awkwardness in the function. It infrequently mattered. within the period of three-community television, Memorex advertisements aired on each CBS and NBC all the way through soccer video games and rock indicates. any person who watched television at all became prone to seize an Fitzgerald Memorex spot. The "Is it live or is it Memorex?" crusade and tagline became a branding success on par with Maxwell house's "decent to the ultimate drop" or Timex's "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking."

because the campaign became an institution, Fitzgerald, pushing 60, reveled in a Memorex-fueled career resurgence. as the critic Leonard Feather wrote, "Ella Fitzgerald's pitch for Memorex probably did more for her than a hundred live shows." Fitzgerald's career revival got here at a time of crucial nervousness around the thought of "promoting out," thanks partly to the declining commercial success of ordinary jazz and the recognition of fusion bands, like Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. For some jazz purists, the usage of the artwork kind to hawk cassettes on television amounted to a capital offense. One jazz critic went so far as to call Fitzgerald a "freakish cultural icon" for her glass-shattering Memorex turn.

Fitzgerald was indifferent to stylistic boundaries and widespread anxieties. Her career dated again to the Nineteen Thirties, when jazz changed into mainstream song. Fitzgerald had made onscreen appearances considering 1942, when she sang her breakthrough hit "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" within the film ride 'Em Cowboy. "She always desired to reach as many individuals as possible," says Tick. "So for her, achieving out to a mass public become not any form of handicap. It changed into what she would want to do." Mainstream attraction had distinct cost for artists of colour, Tick provides: "Ella and Basie each understand how outstanding it's for black singers and black artists to be given this possibility to advocate such a vital product it's mainstream. We understand that black artists had been saved off the radio and television. It alterations in the 1970s, as a result of we're in the put up-civil rights period and the prestige of black is fascinating, black delight, black subculture is emerging. And that capacity there were black celebrities by means of the end of the '70s who [were] doing all kinds of endorsements."

by 1975, Memorex's MRX2 turned into the gold standard-selling cassette tape in the united states. still, there was stiff competition from rival companies like TDK and Scotch, which would enlist Stevie ask yourself and Ray Charles as spokespeople within the late '70s. As Memorex advertising and marketing manager Jack Rohrer instructed Billboard in 1976, the business necessary to "capture the consideration of younger tape clients who are just gaining knowledge of to respect cassettes."

So Memorex produced a fresh commercial teaming Fitzgerald with Melissa Manchester, a rising 25-year-ancient singer-songwriter most advantageous usual for the hit "nighttime Blue." Manchester had sung backup for Bette Midler within the Harlettes and worked as a workforce songwriter for Warner-Chappell. and he or she'd been a faithful Fitzgerald fan from the second she heard the singer's Gershwin songbook album as a bit lady. "I had no concept what she became singing about, but I decided there and then that i wished to live the place she lived. She simply turned into my guiding easy via my complete existence," she says. "once I first obtained to satisfy her on the set of the Memorex industrial, she was so jolly and so pricey and so huggy. I automatically felt established of all I had hoped for: that she become simply impressive in each approach."

in the spot, Manchester changed into delighted to flunk what she now recollects as a "kosher" "Ella or Memorex" listening check. "no one's perfect!" quips Fitzgerald, embracing Manchester.


within the advert, Fitzgerald looks totally herself onscreen — and in this spot's generational scheme, that signature heat, matronly appearance had special which means. Manchester, in the meantime, recollects donning she regarded appropriate apparel, a unfastened blouse and denims, but become referred to as off the set after a take or two. "My manager said to me, 'The producer would such as you to position tape over your nipples for the next shoot,'" she remembers. in the mid-70s, a braless vogue was in vogue and would have resonated with more youthful patrons, however Manchester wasn't allowed to game that look. however, Fitzgerald changed into granted her average autonomy of self-presentation.

"I suppose Ella becomes a sort of maternal determine in that ad," Judith Tick says. "She's passing the torch to Melissa Manchester. now not the torch of jazz, however the torch of endorsing Memorex or the torch of purity of tone." as the industrial aired on tv, Manchester's rich, dramatic voice grew to be a radio staple on ballads like the Ice Castles theme track "in the course of the Eyes of affection" and her 1979 hit, "don't Cry Out Loud."

With the introduction of the car cassette deck, Sony's release of the first Walkman and the transforming into phenomenon of mixtape sharing, cassette earnings have been very a lot on the upward thrust on the conclusion of the '70s. however the Fitzgerald Memorex partnership confirmed signals of wear. A 1979 Memorex spot featured Fitzgerald opposite jazz flugelhorn participant Chuck Mangione, who carried out "Feels So first rate," his rare instrumental hit.

here the roles are inverted: Fitzgerald sits outdoor the sales space listening for the difference between Mangione's live performance and a cassette recording.


although this version with Mangione aired commonly, Fitzgerald's transition from are living singer to passive stock icon implied her obsolescence. The generational shift initiated in the Manchester spot is accomplished right here, with Mangione's youthful enthusiasm and trendiness overshadowing Fitzgerald's classic appeal. The campaign had run its route. And as standard as cassettes were fitting, they accounted for only 15 of Memorex's total revenue. The company's deep losses in the early '80s would prompt the sale of its buyer company, together with its cassette crusade, in 1982.

for many of a decade, the Memorex commercials offered Fitzgerald as an exemplar of sound constancy, mannequin of authenticity, and most greatly, her personal artist. Fitzgerald's peer Billie holiday had her tragic legend overtake her art within the broader way of life. In distinction, Fitzgerald's late-profession Memorex adverts put her inimitable trend and voice appropriate on the core of her widespread attractiveness, helping to develop the legend of her art itself.

The classified ads made Fitzgerald right into a folks hero synonymous with cassette technology. babies at streetlevel called out to Fitzgerald as "The Memorex lady," to her pleasure. She'd tell of airline pilots warning her no longer to sing on their flights for worry of damaged plane windows. The ad campaign capitalized on a folks legend in regards to the human voice's glass-breaking force; it mythologized Fitzgerald's vocal power as timeless and inescapable. Nothing was immune. A 1987 Jet magazine news item mentioned the Memorex spots because it stated that firefighters had rushed to Fitzgerald's Beverly Hills domestic after her singing brought on a fire alarm — all while she became recovering from open-coronary heart surgery at age sixty nine.

Now, many technologies later and decades after Fitzgerald's 1996 dying, these cassette advertisements might also think just like the distant previous. but the question of how we relate to analog or digital voices has under no circumstances left us: Memorex's marriage of cassette expertise and Fitzgerald's musical presence resonates these days in our relationship with AI voices like Siri and Alexa. Fitzgerald's enjoyable ability and persona in these 1970s spots element to why her voice in specific endures as an indicator of vogue, fine and invention. only Ella Fitzgerald, in the dwelling, singing flesh, may have become The Memorex woman. She became an American fashioned.

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