Sam Cooke and Ella FitzgeraldI bet you didn’t know about this.

In early 1961, , the First Lady of Song herself, was at a party being given by some record executives from RCA in Los Angeles. Fitzgerald was under contract with at the time, and didn’t know many of the people at the party. After mingling for an hour or so, she was getting ready to leave when she heard someone playing the piano and singing in another room. She didn’t recognize the song, but she immediately loved it.

As the story goes, Ella followed her ears and met the young man at the piano. He taught her the song, called “Wonderful World” and they sang it together. He of course knew Ella — he was a big fan — and pretty soon they were entertaining the whole party with jazz standards and some current popular songs.

The party ended up lasting all night. The man at the piano turned out to be none other than , and the song that had introduced him to Ella was one he’d composed and recorded.

As it happened, was at the party, and in addition to being a good friend of Fitzgerald’s he was one of the co-writers of “Wonderful World.” It was Alpert’s idea that Sam and Ella put an act together.

Everyone at the party applauded the idea, and it was decided that they’d put together a collection of songs, some of his, some of hers, and some that they felt lent themselves to the combination of their talents, rehearse for a week or two, and, just for fun, do a show or two together.

They did a show at the Roxy in LA with very limited advertising under the name “Sam and Ella” and were such a hit that the club’s owner asked them to stay for a week. For the next week, they sold out every show and brought the house down every night.

The decision was made for the two to do a tour of the US together. The plan was for Ella to perform for 45 minutes, followed by Sam for another 45, and then the two would come on stage together and do duets for as long as they felt like it. The tour was booked into some 50 cities over a three-month period, and was to start with an invitation-only dinner show at New York’s Rainbow Room on April 29, 1961.

The night of the kickoff show arrived after a whirlwind press tour. The performance was to be recorded and broadcast live on numerous radio stations. The invited guests — including some of the most famous entertainers in the country — were seated at 8:00 and served Waldorf salad, followed by chicken marsala. By 9:15, the tables had been cleared, the lights dimmed, and out came Fitzgerald and her quartet.

At the end of her set, Ella left the stage and Sam Cooke appeared to do his set with the same backup musicians. The crowd seemed very appreciative, but some 30 minutes into the set a few of the people started to leave, and the number continued to increase to the point where, by the end of Cooke’s set, nearly half the audience was gone.

At this point, Fitzgerald came out on stage to join Cooke (who was worried that his music had somehow been bad enough to thin out the crowd), the band started “Wonderful World,” and the audience applauded in recognition, but without much enthusiasm.

Fifteen minutes into the duet set, the last of the audience was gone. Fitzgerald was completely shocked, and Cooke (a very sensitive man indeed) was in tears, apparently blaming himself for the whole debacle.

As it turned out, the audience hadn’t walked out because of any problem with either of the two stars. The chicken marsala was undercooked, and nearly everyone in the crowd had taken sick. The singers were told of this the next morning, and they were asked to hold off the rest of the tour and perform again in New York to get things off to a proper start. But the damage had been done. Cooke, who was also a bit superstitious, refused to perform, insisting that it was going to happen again even if they never served chicken at one of their shows again. The tour was canceled, and that was the end of Sam and Ella. They never performed together again, and Cooke was killed in a bizarre shooting some three years later.

Google BuzzNo tags for this post.