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Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader.

Duke Ellington became one of the most influential artists in the history of recorded music, and is largely recognized as one of the greatest figures in the history of jazz, though his music stretched into various other genres, including blues, gospel, movie soundtracks, popular, and classical. His career spanned five decades and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, and world tours. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and in part to his refined public manner and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an artistic level on par with that of classical music. His reputation increased after his death, and he received a special award citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1999.

Ellington called his music "American Music" rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as "beyond category." These included many of the musicians who were members of his orchestra, some of whom are considered among the best in jazz in their own right, but it was Ellington who melded them into one of the most well-known jazz orchestral units in the history of jazz. He often composed specifically for the style and skills of these individuals, such as "Jeep's Blues" for Johnny Hodges, "Concerto for Cootie" for Cootie Williams, which later became "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" with Bob Russell's lyrics, and "The Mooche" for Tricky Sam Nanton and Bubber Miley. He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such as Juan Tizol's "Caravan" and "Perdido" which brought the 'Spanish Tinge' to big-band jazz. Several members of the orchestra remained there for several decades. After 1941, he frequently collaborated with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his "writing and arranging companion." Ellington recorded for many American record companies, and appeared in several films.

Ellington led his band from 1923 until his death in 1974. His son Mercer Ellington, who had already been handling all administrative aspects of his father's business for several decades, led the band until his own death from cancer in 1996. At that point, the band dissolved. Paul Ellington, Mercer's youngest son and executor of the Duke Ellington estate, kept "The Duke Ellington Orchestra." going from Mercer's passing onwards.

Biography

Early life

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 to James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. They lived with his maternal grandparents at 2129 Idk Place, NW in Washington, D.C.marker James Edward Ellington was born in Lincolnton, North Carolinamarker on April 15, 1879 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1886 with his parents. Daisy Kennedy, was born in Washington, D.C. on January 4, 1879, and was the daughter of a former American slave. J.E. made blueprint for the United States Navy. He also worked as a butler for Dr. Middleton F. Cuthbert, a prominent white physician, and occasionally worked as a White Housemarker caterer. Daisy and J.E. were both piano players—she played parlor songs and he operatic airs.

At the age of seven, Ellington began taking piano lessons from Marietta Clinkscales. Daisy surrounded her son with dignified women to reinforce his manners and teach him to live elegantly. Ellington’s childhood friends noticed that "his casual, offhand manner, his easy grace, and his dapper dress gave him the bearing of a young nobleman",and began calling him Duke. Ellington credited his "chum" Edgar McEntree for the nickname. "I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title. So he called me Duke."

Though Ellington took piano lessons, he was more interested in baseball. "President Roosevelt (Teddy) would come by on his horse sometimes, and stop and watch us play," he recalled. Ellington went to Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D.C. He got his first job selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games, where he conquered his stage fright.

In the summer of 1914, while working as a soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Café, he wrote his first composition, "Soda Fountain Rag" (also known as the "Poodle Dog Rag"). Ellington created "Soda Fountain Rag" by ear, because he had not yet learned to read and write music. "I would play the 'Soda Fountain Rag' as a one-step, two-step, waltz, tango, and fox trot," Ellington recalled. "Listeners never knew it was the same piece. I was established as having my own repertoire." In his autobiography, Music is my Mistress (1973), Ellington said he missed more lessons than he attended, feeling at the time that playing the piano was not his talent. Ellington started sneaking into Frank Holiday's Poolroom at age fourteen. Hearing the poolroom pianists play ignited Ellington's love for the instrument and he began to take his piano studies seriously.

Ellington began listening to, watching, and imitating ragtime pianists, not only in Washington, D.C., but in Philadelphiamarker and Atlantic Citymarker, where he vacationed with his mother during the summer months. Dunbar High Schoolmarker music teacher Henry Lee Grant gave him private lessons in harmony. With the additional guidance of Washington pianist and band leader Oliver "Doc" Perry, Ellington learned to read sheet music, project a professional style, and improve his technique. Ellington was also inspired by his first encounters with stride pianists James P. Johnson and Luckey Roberts. Later in New York he took advice from Will Marion Cook, Fats Waller, and Sidney Bechet. Ellington started to play gigs in cafés and clubs in and around Washington, D.C. and began to realize his love for music. His attachment grew to be so strong that he turned down an art scholarship to the Pratt Institutemarker in Brooklyn in 1916. He dropped out of Armstrong Manual Training School, where he was studying commercial art three months before his graduation.

From 1917 through 1919, Ellington launched his musical career, painting commercial signs by day and playing piano by night. Through his day job, Duke's entrepreneurial side came out: when a customer would ask him to make a sign for a dance or party, he would ask them if they had musical entertainment; if not, Ellington would ask if he could play for them. He also had a messenger job with the U.S. Navy and State Departments. Ellington moved out of his parents' home and bought his own as he became a successful pianist. At first, he played in other ensembles, and in late 1917 formed his first group, "The Duke’s Serenaders" ("Colored Syncopators", his telephone directory advertising proclaimed). He was not only a member, but also the booking agent. His first play date was at the True Reformer's Hall, where he took home 75 cents.

Ellington played throughout the Washington, D.C. area and into Virginia for private society balls and embassy parties. The band included Otto Hardwick, who switched from bass to saxophone; Arthur Whetsol on trumpet; Elmer Snowden on banjo; and Sonny Greer on drums. The band thrived, performing for both African-American and white audiences, a rarity during the racially divided times.

Early career

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When his drummer Sonny Greer was invited to join the Wilber Sweatman Orchestra in New York City, Ellington made the fateful decision to leave behind his successful career in Washington, D.C. and move to Harlemmarker, becoming one of the figures of the 'Harlem Renaissance'. New dance crazes like the Charleston emerged in Harlem, as well as African-American musical theater, including Eubie Blake's Shuffle Along. After the young musicians left the Sweatman Orchestra to strike out on their own, they found an emerging jazz scene that was highly competitive and hard to crack. They hustled pool by day and played whatever gig they could find. The young band met Willie "The Lion" Smith who introduced them to the scene and gave them some money. They played at rent-house parties for income. After a few months though, the young musicians returned to Washington, D.C. feeling discouraged.

In June 1923, a gig in Atlantic Citymarker, New Jersey led to a play date at the prestigious Exclusive Club in Harlem, followed in September 1923 by a move to the Hollywood Club, 49th and Broadway, and a four-year engagement, which gave Ellington a solid artistic base. The group was called Elmer Snowden and his Black Sox Orchestra and had seven members, including James "Bubber" Miley. They renamed themselves "The Washingtonians". When Snowden left the group in early 1924, Ellington took over as bandleader. After a fire, the club was re-opened as the Club Kentucky (often referred to as the "Kentucky Club"), an engagement which set the stage for the biggest opportunities in Ellington's life.

Ellington made eight records in 1924, receiving composing credit on three including Choo Choo. In 1925, Ellington contributed four songs to Chocolate Kiddies, an all-African-American revue which introduced European audiences to African-American styles and performers. "Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra" grew to a ten-piece organization, developing their distinct sound, displaying the non-traditional expression of Ellington’s arrangements, the street rhythms of Harlem, and the exotic-sounding trombone growls and wah-wahs, high-squealing trumpets, and sultry saxophone blues licks of the band members. For a short time, the great soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet played with the group, imparting his propulsive swing and superior musicianship on the young band members. This helped attract the attention of some of the biggest names of jazz, including Paul Whiteman.

In 1927, King Oliver turned down a regular booking for his group as the house band at Harlem's Cotton Clubmarker; the offer passed to Ellington. With a weekly radio broadcast and famous white clientèle nightly pouring in to see them, Ellington and his band thrived in the period from 1932 to 1942, a "golden age" for the band.

Although trumpeter Bubber Miley was a member of the orchestra for only a short period, he had a major influence on Ellington's sound. An early experimenter of growl trumpet, his style changed the "sweet" dance band sound of the group to one that was hotter, which contemporaries termed 'jungle' style. He also composed most of "Black and Tan Fantasy" and "Creole Love Call". An alcoholic, Miley had to leave the band before they gained wider fame. He died in 1932 at the age of twenty-nine. He was an important influence on Cootie Williams, who replaced him.

In 1927 Ellington made a career-advancing agreement with agent-publisher Irving Mills giving Mills a 45% interest in Ellington's future. Mills had an eye for new talent and early on published compositions by Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, and Harold Arlen. During the 1930s, Ellington's popularity continued to increase, largely as a result of the promotional skills of Mills, who got more than his fair share of co-composer credits. Mills arranged recording sessions on the Brunswick, Victor, and Columbia labels which gave Ellington popular recognition. Mills took the management burden off of Ellington's shoulders, allowing him to focus on his band's sound and his compositions. Ellington ended his association with Mills in 1937, although he continued to record under Mills' banner through to 1940.

At the Cotton Club, Ellington's group performed all the music for the revues, which mixed comedy, dance numbers, vaudeville, burlesque, music, and illegal alcohol. The musical numbers were composed by Jimmy McHugh and the lyrics by Dorothy Fields (later Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler), with some Ellington originals mixed in. Weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave Ellington national exposure. In 1929, Ellington appeared in his first movie, a nineteen-minute all-African-American RKO short, Black and Tan, in which he played the hero "Duke". In the same year, The Cotton Club Orchestra appeared on stage for several months in Florenz Ziegfeld's Show Girl, along with vaudeville stars Jimmy Durante, Eddie Foy, Jr., Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, and with music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Gus Kahn. That feverish period also included numerous recordings, under the pseudonyms "Whoopee Makers", "The Jungle Band", "Harlem Footwarmers", and the "Ten Black Berries". In 1930, Ellington and his Orchestra connected with a whole different audience in a concert with Maurice Chevalier and they also performed at the Roseland Ballroommarker, "America's foremost ballroom". Noted composer Percy Grainger was also an early admirer and supporter.

In 1929, when Ellington conducted the orchestra for Show Girl, he met Will Vodery, Ziegfeld’s musical supervisor. In his 1946 biography, Duke Ellington, Barry Ulanov wrote: “From Vodery, as he (Ellington) says himself, he drew his chromatic convictions, his uses of the tones ordinarily extraneous to the diatonic scale, with the consequent alteration of the harmonic character of his music, its broadening, The deepening of his resources. It has become customary to ascribe the classical influences upon Duke - Delius, Debussy and Ravel - to direct contact with their music. Actually his serious appreciation of those and other modern composers, came after his meeting with Vodery.”

As the Depression worsened, the recording industry was in crisis, dropping over 90% of its artists by 1933. Ellington and his orchestra survived the hard times by taking to the road in a series of tours. Radio exposure also helped maintain popularity. Ivie Anderson was hired as their featured vocalist. Sonny Greer had been providing occasional vocals and continued to do in a cross-talk feature with Anderson.

Ellington led the orchestra by conducting from the keyboard using piano cues and visual gestures; very rarely did he conduct using a baton. As a bandleader, Ellington was not a strict disciplinarian but he maintained control of his orchestra with a crafty combination of charm, humor, flattery, and astute psychology. A complex, private person, he revealed his feelings to only his closest intimates and effectively used his public persona to deflect attention away from himself.

While their United States audience remained mainly African-American in this period, the Cotton Club had a near exclusive white clientèle and the band had a huge following overseas, demonstrated both in a trip to England in 1933 and a 1934 visit to the European mainland. The English visit saw Ellington win praise from members of the 'serious' music community, including composer Constant Lambert, which gave a boost to Ellington's aspiration to compose longer works. For agent Mills, it was a publicity triumph, as Ellington was now internationally known. On their tour through the segregated South in 1934, they avoided some of the traveling difficulties of African-Americans by touring in private railcars, which provided easy accommodations, dining, and storage for equipment, while avoiding the indignities of segregated facilities.

The death of Ellington's mother in 1935 led to a temporary hiatus in his career. Competition was also intensifying, as African-American and white swing bands began to receive popular attention, including those of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Jimmie Lunceford, Benny Carter, Earl Hines, Chick Webb, and Count Basie. Swing dancing became a youth phenomenon, particularly with white college audiences, and "danceability" drove record sales and bookings. Jukeboxes proliferated nationwide spreading the gospel of "swing". Ellington band could certainly "swing", but Ellington's strength was mood and nuance, and richness of composition, hence his statement "jazz is music; swing is business". Ellington countered with two developments. He made recordings of smaller groups (sextets, octets, and nonets) drawn from his then 15-man orchestra and he composed pieces intended to feature specific instrumentalist, as with Jeep's Blues for Johnny Hodges, Yearning for Love for Lawrence Brown, Trumpet in Spades for Rex Stewart, Echoes of Harlem for Cootie Williams and Clarinet Lament for Barney Bigard.

In 1937, Ellington returned to the Cotton Club which had relocated to the mid-town theater district. In the summer of that year, his father died, and due to many expenses Ellington's financese were tight. Things improved in 1938 and he met and moved in with Cotton Club employee Beatrice "Evie" Ellis. After splitting with agent Irving Mills, he signed on with the William Morris Agency. The 1930s ended with a very successful European tour just as World War II loomed.

Ellington delivered some huge hits during the 1930s, which greatly helped to build his overall reputation. Some of them include: "Mood Indigo" (1930), "It Don't Mean a Thing " (1932), "Sophisticated Lady" (1933), "Solitude" (1934), "In a Sentimental Mood" (1935), "Caravan" (1937), "I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart" (1938). "Take the "A" Train" which hit big in 1941, was written by Billy Strayhorn.

Strayhorn, originally hired as a lyricist, began his association with Ellington in 1939. Nicknamed "Swee' Pea" for his mild manner, Strayhorn soon became a vital member of the Ellington Organization. Ellington showed great fondness for Strayhorn and never failed to speak glowingly of the man and their collaborative working relationship, "my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine". Strayhorn, with his training in classical music, not only contributed his original lyrics and music, but also arranged and polished many of Ellington's works, becoming, in essence, a second Ellington or "Duke's doppelganger". It was not uncommon for Strayhorn to fill in for Duke, whether in conducting or rehearsing the band, or in playing the piano, on stage and in the recording studio.

Duke in the 1940s

Duke Ellington at the Hurricane Club in New York, May 1943


The band reached a creative peak in the early 1940s, when Ellington wrote for an orchestra of distinctive voices and displayed tremendous creativity. Some of the musicians created a sensation in their own right. The short-lived Jimmy Blanton transformed the use of double bass in jazz, allowing it to function as a solo rather than a rhythm instrument alone. Ben Webster, the Orchestra's first regular tenor saxophonist, started a rivalry with Johnny Hodges as the Orchestra's foremost voice in the sax section. Ray Nance joined, replacing Cootie Williams (who had "defected", contemporary wags claimed, to Benny Goodman). Nance, however, added violin to the instrumental colors Ellington had at his disposal. Three-minute masterpieces flowed from the minds of Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Ellington's son Mercer Ellington, and members of the Orchestra. "Cotton Tail", "Main Stem", "Harlem Airshaft", "Sidewalks of New York (East Side, West Side)" and dozens of others date from this period. Privately made recordings of Nance's first concert date, at Fargo, North Dakotamarker, on November 7, 1940 by Jack Towers and Dick Burris, are probably the most effective display of the band during this period. These recordings are among the first of innumerable live performances which survive, made by enthusiasts or broadcasters, significantly expanding the Ellington discography.

Ellington's long-term aim became to extend the jazz form from the three-minute limit of the 78 rpm record side, of which he was an acknowledged master. He had composed and recorded Creole Rhapsody as early as 1931, and his tribute to his mother, "Reminiscing in Tempo," had filled four 10" record sides in 1935; however, it was not until the 1940s that this became a regular feature of Ellington's work. In this, he was helped by Strayhorn, who had enjoyed a more thorough training in the forms associated with classical music than Ellington. The first of these, "Black, Brown, and Beige" (1943), was dedicated to telling the story of African-Americans, and the place of slavery and the church in their history. Ellington debuted Black, Brown and Beige in Carnegie Hallmarker on January 23, 1943, beginning a series of concerts there suited to displaying Ellington's longer works. While some jazz musicians had played at Carnegie Hall before, few had performed anything as elaborate as Ellington’s work. Unfortunately, starting a regular pattern, Ellington's longer works were generally not well-received; Jump for Joy, a musical which debuted in 1941, closed after only six performances .

The settlement of the first recording ban of 1942–43 had a serious effect on all the big bands because of the increase in royalty payments to musicians which resulted from it. The financial viability of Ellington's Orchestra came under threat, though Ellington's income as a songwriter ultimately subsidized it. Ellington always spent lavishly and although he drew a respectable income from the Orchestra's operations, the band's income often just covered expenses.

Meanwhile, the development of modern jazz, or bebop, the music industry's shift to solo vocalists such as the young Frank Sinatra as the Big Band era receded. Bebop rebelled against commercial jazz, dancing to jazz, and strict forms to become the music of jazz aficionados. Furthermore, by 1950 the emerging African-American popular music style known as Rhythm and Blues drew away the young African-American audience and Rock & Roll soon followed. In the face of these major social shifts, Ellington continued on his own course. For a time though Ellington continued to turn out major works, such as the Kay Davis vocal feature Transblucency and major extended compositions such as Harlem (1950), whose score he presented to music-loving President Harry Truman.

In 1951, Ellington suffered a major loss of personnel, with Sonny Greer, Lawrence Brown, and most significantly Johnny Hodges, leaving to pursue other ventures. Lacking overseas opportunities and motion picture appearances, Ellington Orchestra survived on "one-nighters" and whatever else came their way, even six weeks in the summer of 1955 as the band for the Aquacade in Flushing, New York, where Ellington is supposed to have "invented" a drink known as "The Tornado," the only alcoholic concoction that features his signature Coca-Cola and sugar. Even though he made many television appearances, Ellington's hope that television would provide a significant new outlet for his type of jazz was not fulfilled. The introduction of the 33 1/3 rpm LP record and hi-fi phonograph did give new life to older compositions. However by 1955, after three years of recording for Capitolmarker, Ellington no longer had a regular recording affiliation.

Career revival

Ellington in 1973
Ellington's appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956 returned him to wider prominence and exposed him to new audiences. The feature "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue", with saxophonist Paul Gonsalves's six-minute saxophone solo, had been in the band's book since 1937, but on this occasion nearly created a riot. The revived attention should not have surprised anyone – Hodges had returned to the fold the previous year, and Ellington's collaboration with Strayhorn had been renewed around the same time, under terms more amenable to the younger man. Such Sweet Thunder (1957), based on Shakespeare's plays and characters, and The Queen's Suite, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II, were products of the renewed impetus which the Newport appearance helped to create.

A new record contract with Columbia produced Ellington's best-selling LP Ellington at Newport and yielded six years of recording stability under producer Irving Townsend, who coaxed both commercial and artistic productions from Ellington. In 1957, CBS (Columbia's parent corporation) aired a live television production of A Drum Is a Woman, an allegorical suite which received mixed reviews. Festival appearances at the new Monterey Jazz Festival and elsewhere provided venues for live exposure, and a European tour in 1958 was wildly received. After a 25-year gap, Ellington (with Strayhorn) returned to work on film scores, this time for Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Paris Blues (1961). Ellington and Strayhorn, always looking for new musical territory, produced adaptations of John Steinbeck's novel Sweet Thursday, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt. The late 1950s also saw Ella Fitzgerald record her Duke Ellington Songbook with Ellington and his orchestra—a recognition that Ellington's songs had now become part of the cultural canon known as the "Great American Songbook".

Detroit Free Press music critic Mark Stryker concludes that the work of Billy Strayhorn and Ellington in Anatomy of a Murder is "indispensable, [although] . . . too sketchy to rank in the top echelon among Ellington-Strayhorn masterpiece suites like Such Sweet Thunder and The Far East Suite, but its most inspired moments are their equal." Film historians have recognized the soundtrack "as a landmark – the first significant Hollywood film music by African Americans comprising non-diegetic music, that is, music whose source is not visible or implied by action in the film, like an on-screen band." The score avoided the cultural stereotypes which previously characterized jazz scores and rejected a strict adherence to visuals in ways that presaged the New Wave cinema of the ’60s".

In the early 1960s, Ellington was between recording contracts, which allowed him to record with a variety of artists not previously associated with him. The Ellington and Count Basie orchestras recorded together and he made a record with Coleman Hawkins, another with Louis Armstrong, plus a sequence of albums for Frank Sinatra's new Reprise label. In 1962, he participated in a session which produced the Money Jungle (United Artists) album with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, and also recorded with John Coltrane for Impulse. Musicians who had previously worked with Ellington returned to the Orchestra as members: Lawrence Brown in 1960 and Cootie Williams in 1962. Ellington was by now performing all over the world (a significant part of each year was now spent making overseas tours), and he formed notable new working relationships, among which included the Swedish vocalist Alice Babs, and South African musicians Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin (A Morning in Paris, 1963/1997). His earlier hits were now established standards, earning Ellington impressive royalties. "The writing and playing of music is a matter of intent.... You can't just throw a paint brush against the wall and call whatever happens art. My music fits the tonal personality of the player. I think too strongly in terms of altering my music to fit the performer to be impressed by accidental music. You can't take doodling seriously."

Last years

Ellington was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, but was turned down. His reaction at 67 years old: "Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be famous too young." In September of the same year, the first of his Sacred Concerts‎ was given its premiere. It was an attempt to fuse Christian liturgy with jazz, and even though it received mixed reviews, Ellington was proud of the composition and performed it dozens of times. This concert was followed by two others of the same type in 1968 and 1973, known as the Second and Third Sacred Concerts. This caused controversy in what was already a tumultuous time in the United States. Many saw the Sacred Music suites as an attempt to reinforce commercial support for organized religion, though Ellington simply said it was, "the most important thing I've done." The Steinwaymarker piano upon which the Sacred Concerts were composed is part of the collection of the Smithsonianmarker's National Museum of American Historymarker. Like Haydn and Mozart, Ellington conducted his orchestra from the piano - he always played the keyboard parts when the Sacred Concerts were performed.

Ellington continued to make vital and innovative recordings, including The Far East Suite (1966), the New Orleans Suite (1970), and The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971), much of it inspired by his world tours. It was during this time that Ellington recorded his only album with Frank Sinatra, entitled Francis A. & Edward K. (1967).

Ellington was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966. He was later awarded several other prizes, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, an Honorary PhD from the Berklee College of Musicmarker in 1971, and the Legion of Honor by France in 1973, the highest civilian honors in each country. He died of lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974, a month after his 75th birthday, and was interred in the Woodlawn Cemeterymarker, The Bronxmarker, New York City. At his funeral attended by over 12,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion, "It's a very sad day. A genius has passed." Mercer Ellington picked up the reins of the orchestra immediately after Duke's death. Before Ellington died, his last words were, "Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered."

Work in films and the theater

Ellington's film work began in 1929 with the short film Black and Tan . Symphony In Black (1935) featured his extended piece 'A Rhapsody of Negro Life'. It introduced Billie Holiday, and won an Academy Award as the best musical short subject. He also appeared in the Amos 'n' Andy film Check and Double Check (1930). Ellington and his Orchestra continued to appear in films through the 1930s and 1940s, both in short films and in features such as Murder at the Vanities, and Belle Of The Nineties, (1934), and Cabin In The Sky (1943). In the late 1950s, his work in films took the shape of scoring for soundtracks, notably Anatomy of a Murder (1959), with James Stewart, in which he appeared fronting a roadhouse combo, and Paris Blues, (1961), which featured Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as jazz musicians.

He wrote an original score for director Michael Langham's production of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada which opened on July 29, 1963. Langham has used it for several subsequent productions, most recently in an adaptation by Stanley Silverman which expands the score with some of Ellington's best-known works.

Ellington composed the score for the musical Jump For Joy, which was performed in Los Angeles during 1941. Ellington's sole book musical, Beggar's Holiday, was staged on Broadway in 1946. Sophisticated Ladies, an award-winning 1981 musical revue, incorporated many tunes from his repertoire.

Private life

Ellington married his high school sweetheart, Edna Thompson, on July 2, 1918, when he was 19. Shortly after their marriage, on March 11, 1919 Edna gave birth to their only son, Mercer Kennedy Ellington. Mercer played trumpet, led his own band and worked as his father's business manager, eventually taking full control of the band after Duke's death. He was an important archivist of his father's musical life. Ellington's sister Ruth later ran Tempo Music, Ellington' music publishing company.

Ellington's grandson Edward Ellington is a musician and maintains a small salaried band known as the Duke Ellington Legacy, which frequently comprises the core of the big band operated by The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts.

Discography

Awards, honors and recognitions

Memorials

The grave of Duke Ellington
Numerous memorials have been dedicated to Duke Ellington, in cities from New York and Washington, DC to Los Angeles.

In Ellington's birthplace of Washington, D.C., there is a school dedicated to his honor and memory as well as one of the bridges over Rock Creek Park. The Duke Ellington School of the Arts educates talented students, who are considering careers in the arts, by providing intensive arts instruction and strong academic programs that prepare students for post-secondary education and professional careers. The Calvert Street Bridge was renamed the Duke Ellington Bridgemarker; built in 1935, it connects Woodley Parkmarker to Adams Morganmarker.

On February 24, 2009, the United States Mint launched a new coin featuring Duke Ellington, making him the first African-American to appear by himself on a circulating U.S. coin. Ellington appears on the reverse ("tails") side of the District of Columbiamarker quarter. The coin is part of the U.S. Mint's program honoring the District and the U.S. territories and celebrates Ellington's birthplace in the District of Columbia. Ellington is depicted on the quarter seated at a piano, sheet music in hand, along with the inscription "Justice for All", which is the District's motto.

Ellington lived for years in a townhouse on the corner of Manhattan's Riverside Drive and West 106th Street. After his death, West 106th Street was officially renamed Duke Ellington Boulevard. A large memorial to Ellington, created by sculptor Robert Graham, was dedicated in 1997 in New York's Central Parkmarker, near Fifth Avenuemarker and 110th Street, an intersection named Duke Ellington Circle.

Although he made two more stage appearances before his death, Ellington performed what is considered his final "full" concert in a ballroom at Northern Illinois Universitymarker on March 20, 1974. The hall was renamed the Duke Ellington Ballroom in 1980.

A statue of Ellington at a piano is featured at the entrance to UCLAmarker's Schoenberg Hall. According to UCLA magazine, "When UCLA students were entranced by Duke Ellington's provocative tunes at a Culver City club in 1937, they asked the budding musical great to play a free concert in Royce Hallmarker. 'I've been waiting for someone to ask us!' Ellington exclaimed".

"On the day of the concert, Ellington accidentally mixed up the venues and drove to USCmarker instead. He eventually arrived at the UCLA campus and, to apologize for his tardiness, played to the packed crowd for more than four hours. And so, "Sir Duke" and his group played the first-ever jazz performance in a concert venue."

He is one of only five jazz musicians ever to have been featured on the cover of Time (the other four being Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Wynton Marsalis, and Dave Brubeck).

The Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival is a nationally renowned annual competition for prestigious high school bands. Started in 1996 at Jazz at Lincoln Centermarker, the festival is named after Ellington because of the large focus that the festival places on his works.

Tributes

  • Sathima Bea Benjamin - the South African vocalist wrote "Gift of Love", in memory of Duke Ellington, for her 1987 album Love Light.
  • Dave Brubeck - dedicated "The Duke" (1954) to Ellington and it became a standard covered by others, both during Ellington's lifetime (such as by Miles Davis on Miles Ahead, 1957) and posthumously (such as George Shearing on I Hear a Rhapsody: Live at the Blue Note, 1992). The album The Real Ambassadors has a vocal version of this piece, You Swing Baby (The Duke), with lyrics by Iola Brubeck, Dave's wife. It is performed as a duet between Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae. It is also dedicated to Duke Ellington.
  • Tony Bennett frequently altered the lyrics to "Lullaby of Broadway" in live performance, to sing, "You rock-a-bye your baby 'round/to Ellington or Basie," as a personal tribute to the two jazz masters.
  • Judy Collins - wrote "Song For Duke" in 1975, and included it on her album Judith.
  • Miles Davis - one month after Ellington's death, created his half-hour dedicated dirge "He Loved Him Madly" (1974) collected on Get Up with It.
  • The jazz-influenced band Steely Dan recorded a note-for-note version of an early Ellington standard, "East St. Louis Toodle-oo," on their album Pretzel Logic, released in 1974, using treated slide guitars to re-create the plunger-muted "jungle sound" of the original Ellington horns.
  • Stevie Wonder - wrote the song "Sir Duke" as a tribute to Ellington in 1976.
  • Charles Mingus - composed "Open Letter to Duke" and "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love"
  • Lorraine Feather - has composed lyrics to many of Ellington's instrumental compositions,recorded on CD's including "Dooji Wooji" and "Such Sweet Thunder."
  • The Modern Jazz Quartet composed two original Ellington tributes for their album For Ellington.


There are hundreds of albums dedicated to the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn by artists famous and obscure. The more notable artists include Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Claude Bolling, Oscar Peterson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Dick Hyman, Joe Pass, Milt Jackson, Earl Hines, André Previn, World Saxophone Quartet, Ben Webster, Zoot Sims, Kenny Burrell, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Martial Solal, Clark Terry and Randy Weston.

Homage from critics

Gunther Schuller wrote, "Ellington composed incessantly to the very last days of his life. Music was indeed his mistress; it was his total life and his commitment to it was incomparable and unalterable. In jazz he was a giant among giants. And in twentieth century music, he may yet one day be recognized as one of the half-dozen greatest masters of our time."

Martin Williams said "Duke Ellington lived long enough to hear himself named among our best composers. And since his death in 1974, it has become not at all uncommon to see him named, along with Charles Ives, as the greatest composer we have produced, regardless of category."

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Duke Ellington on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

Andre Previn said, "You know, Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand fiddles and a thousand brass and make a dramatic gesture and every studio arranger can nod his head and say, ‘‘Oh, yes, that’s done like this.’’ But Duke merely lifts his finger, three hornsmake a sound, and I don’t know what it is!"

Awards

Grammy Awards

Ellington earned 13 Grammy awards from 1959 to 2000, nine while he was alive.
Duke Ellington Grammy Award History
Year Category Title Genre Result
1999 Historical Album The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition
RCA Victor Recordings (1927-1973)
Jazz Winner
1979 Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band Duke Ellington At Fargo, 1940 Live Jazz Winner
1976 Best Jazz Performance By A Big Band The Ellington Suites Jazz Winner
1972 Best Jazz Performance By A Big Band Toga Brava Suite Jazz Winner
1971 Best Jazz Performance By A Big Band New Orleans Suite Jazz Winner
1968 Best Instrumental Jazz Performance - Large Group
Or Soloist With Large Group
...And His Mother Called Him Bill Jazz Winner
1967 Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Large Group
Or Soloist With Large Group
Far East Suite Jazz Winner
1966 Best Original Jazz Composition In The Beginning God Jazz Winner
1965 Best Instrumental Jazz Performance -
Large Group Or Soloist With Large Group
Ellington '66 Jazz Winner
1959 Best Performance By A Dance Band Anatomy of a Murder Pop Winner
1959 Best Musical Composition First Recorded
And Released In 1959
(More Than 5 Minutes Duration)

Anatomy of a Murder Composing Winner
1959 Best Sound Track Album - Background Score
From A Motion Picture Or Television
Anatomy of a Murder Composing Winner


Grammy Hall of Fame

Recordings of Duke Ellington were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical significance."

Duke Ellington: Grammy Hall of Fame Award
Year Recorded Title Genre Label Year Inducted
1932 It Don't Mean a Thing Jazz (Single) Brunswick 2008
1934 Cocktails for Two Jazz (Single) Victor 2007
1957 Ellington at Newport Jazz (Album) Columbia 2004
1956 Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue Jazz (Single) Columbia 1999
1967 Far East Suite Jazz (Album) RCA 1999
1944 Black, Brown and Beige Jazz (Single) RCA Victor 1990
1928 Black and Tan Fantasy Jazz (Single) Victor 1981
1941 Take the "A" Train Jazz (Single) Victor 1976
1931 Mood Indigo Jazz (Single) Brunswick 1975


Honors and inductions

Ellington on the Washington, D.C. quarter released in 2009.


Year Category Notes
2009 Commemorative U.S. quarter D.C. and U.S. Territories Quarters Program.
2008 Gennett Records Walk of Fame
2004 Nesuhi Ertegün Jazz Hall of Fame
at Jazz at Lincoln Centermarker
1999 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation
1986 22¢ commemorative U.S. stamp Issued April 29, 1986
1978 Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame
1973 French Legion of Honor July 6, 1973
1973 Honorary Degree in Music from Columbia University May 16, 1973
1971 Songwriters Hall of Fame
1969 Presidential Medal of Freedom
1956 Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame inductee
1968 Grammy Trustees Award Special Merit Award
1966 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
1959 NAACP Spingarn Medal


Notes

References

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Further reading

  • Collier, James Lincoln. Duke Ellington, Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-19-503770-7
  • Dailey, Raleigh. "Ellington as a Composer for the Piano," in Jazz Research Proceedings Yearbook, #31 (Jan.2001), pp. 151–156.
  • Dance, Stanley. The World Of Duke Ellington, ISBN 0-306-80136-1
  • Ellington, Duke. Music Is My Mistress, ISBN 0-7043-3090-3
  • Ellington, Mercer K. Duke Ellington In Person, Houghton Mifflin, 1978. ISBN 0-395-25711-5
  • Ellington, Mercer K. Fast Facts. Duke Ellington.25 CMG WorldWide. February 1, 2007
  • Hasse, John Edward. Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, Simon & Schuster, 1993. ISBN 0-671-70387-0
  • Gilles Tordjman, François Billard, Duke Ellington, Le Seuil, Paris, 1994. ISBN 978-2020137003
  • Tucker, Mark. Ellington, The Early Years, University of Illinois Press, 1991. ISBN 0-252-01425-1
  • Ulanov, Barry. Duke Ellington, Creative Age Press, 1946.


Reference works

  • Massagli, Luciano and Volonté, Giovanni. The New Desor: Duke Ellington's Story on Records Parts One and Two, 1999, Milan, Italy. Privately published two part discography with no ISBN number. The most comprehensive Ellington discography for sessions and record issues.
  • Stratemann, Dr. Klaus. Duke Ellington: Day by Day and Film by Film, 1992. ISBN 87-88043-34-7 Covers all of Duke's travels and films from the 1929 short film Black and Tan onwards
  • Timner, W.E.. Ellingtonia: The Recorded Music of Duke Ellington and His Sidemen, 2007. ISBN 0-8108-5889-4 Has a unique discography of Ellington's sidemen.


External links




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