Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and a guy you’ve never heard of

The world’s biggest problems seem impossible to solve. But they’re not.

Take diversity and inclusion – ensuring an appropriate recognition of the talents of women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ communities within the country’s boardrooms, courtrooms and legislatures.

Despite many years of hand-wringing about this injustice, a recent study found there were more Fortune 500 CEOs called David than female ones. And even fewer black ones.

I was thinking about this when I read that Jerry Jeff Walker, someone you’ve probably never heard of, passed away last weekend.

Jerry Jeff Walker was a songwriter. His most famous composition was “Mr Bojangles” which became the late, great Sammy Davis Jr’s signature song. The lyrics about an out of luck song-and-dance man travelling through the American South resonated so strongly with his own experiences that Sammy Davis Jr recorded the iconic version of that iconic song.

As a young black man in 1940s and 1950s America, Sammy Davis Jr didn’t have the easiest route to stardom. But Frank Sinatra liked Sammy Davis Jr and believed in his talent.

He insisted on Sammy Davis appearing on the bill with him, going very much against the grain at a time when many major venues booked an all-white roster of entertainers. Thankfully, Ol’ Blue Eyes wasn’t an easy man to say “no” to.

Marilyn Monroe did something similar.

She adored Ella Fitzgerald’s voice – and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t? But when the owner of a top LA nightclub refused to book her because he thought no-one would turn up to watch an overweight black woman sing, Marilyn Monroe pitched in.

One of the biggest stars on the planet at the time, Marilyn told the owner of the Mocambo nightclub that if he changed his mind not only would she sit in the front row every night Ella Fitzgerald sang, but she’d bring her movie star friends along too.

Wisely, the nightclub owner decided this offer was too good to refuse. The house was packed every night. Ella Fitzgerald’s career never looked back because someone believed in her and went to bat for her.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Frank Sinatra or Marilyn Monroe were saints. There’s plenty of evidence around to suggest they were not.

What they did, though, was something which would have been easy for them not to do. They stood up for giving someone the chance their talents deserved, notwithstanding the colour of their skin, their gender or how much they weighed.

We might not be Frank Sinatra or Marilyn Monroe, but we can all do that.

Frank Sinatra could have shrugged his shoulders and got Dean Martin booked instead. It would have been no skin off Frank’s nose.

Marilyn Monroe could have sighed quietly and let Mocambo book Peggy Lee instead. It’s not like she was short of invitations to glamorous night-spots. But she sat in the front row at Mocambo every night because that’s how she made sure her friend’s talents got the exposure they deserved.

It would have been easier not to, and they gained nothing by taking a stand, but Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe went to bat for people with talent who deserved a chance.

If we really want to solve the problem of diversity and inclusion we just need to do what Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe did, and make sure people get the opportunities their talents deserve.

We might not be able to change the whole world on our own, but we can change one person’s life on our own. If we choose to…

Published by Alastair Thomson

Founder of Better Business Publishing Ltd. An experienced Chairman, CEO, CFO and Non-Executive Director for large multinationals across sectors such as advertising, manufacturing, financial services, utilities, printing, direct mail fulfilment, contact centres, professional membership bodies, education and training.

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