Duke Ellington
Bandleader, composer, pianist
Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and big-band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions. In the opinion of Bob Blumenthal of The Boston Globe "In the century since his birth, there has been no greater composer, American or otherwise, than Edward Kennedy Ellington. " A major figure in the history of jazz, Ellington's music stretched into various other genres, including blues, gospel, film scores, popular, and classical.
Biography
Duke Ellington's personal information overview.
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Saturday's Calendar - Daily Pilot
Google News - over 5 years
The Duke Ellington Orchestra joins the Pacific Symphony for a concert of American music at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. The concert begins at 8 pm, with the doors opening at 6. For more information, call (714)
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Live: What Happens When No-Wave Legend James Chance Plays in a Piano Bar - The L Magazine
Google News - over 5 years
Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus; a respectable smattering of acknowledged greats, selected by a man who's obviously been to a few piano bars (or a few hundred). Original compositions like “Blonde Ice” from last year's jazzy
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Georgetown Notebook | Some history and some upcoming events - Myrtle Beach Sun News
Google News - over 5 years
A few hundred feet from a highly commercially developed area of Pawleys Island stand the remnants of an African-American's only resort that hosted musicians as famous as Duke Ellington, James Brown and Little Richard. What was once the Magnolia Beach
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Maine Jazz Septet Mines Little-Known Ellington and Strayhorn Gems - MPBN News
Google News - over 5 years
In Midcoast Maine, there's a group of musicians and jazz enthusiasts that's dedicated to the music of legendary bandleader Duke Ellington and his long-time associate, the composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn. In preparation for a series of upcoming
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Duke Ellington School Receives $17.2 Million Grant - Patch.com
Google News - over 5 years
The Eugene B. Casey Foundation donated a major gift to the performing arts school in Georgetown By Shaun Courtney Duke Ellington School on a crisp fall day. Daniel Elliott "The Duke Ellington Fund is grateful to the Casey Foundation for giving so
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Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane - San Antonio Current
Google News - over 5 years
When dealing with a musician whose career looms as large as Duke Ellington's (more than five decades and 1000-plus original recordings), finding a place to start can be daunting. Credit Impulse for this beautifully remastered reissue
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Benld's Coliseum Ballroom destroyed in fire - Chicago Tribune
Google News - over 5 years
AP A decades-old theater in the small central Illinois town of Benld that once hosted musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington has burned down. The Telegraph in Alton reports that the Coliseum Ballroom on Illinois Route 4 burned on Saturday ... -
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Lenny Kravitz - Lenny Kravitz Has Cherished Memories Of Duke Ellington And Richie - Contactmusic.com
Google News - over 5 years
Jazz great Duke Ellington once serenaded rocker Lenny Kravitz on his birthday when he was a kid. The Let Love Rule singer's parents decided to treat young Lenny to a concert at the fabled Rainbow Room in New York and when the headliner realised he had
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The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia and Master Recordings of Duke ... - JazzTimes Magazine
Google News - over 5 years
Mosaic isn't exactly mucking around on this gargantuan 11-disc set that essentially distills the first grand age of Ellingtonia into the contents of one box set. There would, of course, be other ages of comparable majesty,
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Symphony Under Stars to be swinging time - Helena Independent Record
Google News - over 5 years
music from the Harlem Renaissance, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson and more will be performed on Guadalupe hill Saturday July 16, 2011 beginning at 8:30 pm Symphony Under the Stars concert and fireworks show has attracted over 15000
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Duke Ellington to the Court of St. James? - San Francisco Chronicle
Google News - over 5 years
President Kennedy, I think, should name Duke Ellington to be our Ambassador to the Court of St. James. There are cogent reasons for such an appointment, which has been given to some far-out cats, including Mr. Joe Kennedy, the Leader's pater
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Beyond Category: Maud Hixson and Lucia Newell Sing Ellington and Strayhorn ... - Jazz Police (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
Duke Ellington on Billy Strayhorn “Beyond Category” was a phrase often used by Duke Ellington to describe others who most impressed him, but it was the Duke's legacy of compositions and arrangements that defied classification
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Duke Ellington Show Choir prepares to take their talent overseas - Washington Post (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
The 2011 Duke Ellington School of the Arts Show Choir is taking their talent across the waters and heading to France and Monaco on a two-week European tour. The choir, composed of 27 members, both students and alumni who will be
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Duke Ellington's mother dies - The Guardian
Google News - over 5 years
The death of Duke Ellington's beloved mother in 1935 drew from the great composer a work that provided the first serious indication that his gifts could not be confined to the glittering multifaceted miniatures with which he had made his name
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Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Duke Ellington
    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 1974
    Age 74
    Ellington died on May 24, 1974, of complications from lung cancer and pneumonia, a few weeks after his 75th birthday.
    More Details Hide Details 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." He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York City. Following Duke's death, his son Mercer took over leadership of the orchestra, continuing until his own death in 1996. Like the Count Basie Orchestra, this group continued to release albums long after Duke Ellington's death. Digital Duke, credited to The Duke Ellington Orchestra, won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. Mercer Ellington had been handling all administrative aspects of his father's business for several decades. Mercer's children continue a connection with their grandfather's work.
  • 1973
    Age 73
    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.
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    The last three shows Ellington and his orchestra performed were one on March 21, 1973 at Purdue University's Hall of Music and two on March 22, 1973 at the Sturges-Young Auditorium in Sturgis, Michigan.
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  • 1965
    Age 65
    In September 1965, he premiered the first of his Sacred Concerts.
    More Details Hide Details He created a jazz Christian liturgy. Although the work 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. These generated 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 Steinway piano upon which the Sacred Concerts were composed is part of the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Like Haydn and Mozart, Ellington conducted his orchestra from the piano – he always played the keyboard parts when the Sacred Concerts were performed. Despite his advancing age (he turned 65 in the spring of 1964), Ellington showed no sign of slowing down as he continued to make vital and innovative recordings, including The Far East Suite (1966), New Orleans Suite (1970), Latin American Suite (1972) and The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971), much of it inspired by his world tours. It was during this time that he recorded his only album with Frank Sinatra, entitled Francis A. & Edward K. (1967).
    Ellington was a Pulitzer Prize for Music nominee in 1965 but another nominee was selected.
    More Details Hide Details Then 66 years old, he said: "Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be famous too young." In 1999 he was posthumously awarded a special Pulitzer Prize (not the Music prize), "commemorating the centennial year of his birth, in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture."
  • 1963
    Age 63
    Ellington 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.
    More Details Hide Details Langham has used it for several subsequent productions, including a much later adaptation by Stanley Silverman which expands the score with some of Ellington's best-known works.
  • 1960
    Age 60
    Musicians who had previously worked with Ellington returned to the Orchestra as members: Lawrence Brown in 1960 and Cootie Williams in 1962. "The writing and playing of music is a matter of intent.
    More Details Hide Details 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." He was now performing all over the world; a significant part of each year was spent on overseas tours. As a consequence, he formed new working relationships with artists from around the world, including the Swedish vocalist Alice Babs, and the South African musicians Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin (A Morning in Paris, 1963/1997).
  • FIFTIES
  • 1959
    Age 59
    Ellington earned 12 Grammy awards from 1959 to 2000, three of which were posthumous.
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  • 1957
    Age 57
    In 1957, CBS (Columbia Records' parent corporation) aired a live television production of A Drum Is a Woman, an allegorical suite which received mixed reviews.
    More Details Hide Details His hope that television would provide a significant new outlet for his type of jazz was not fulfilled. Tastes and trends had moved on without him. Festival appearances at the new Monterey Jazz Festival and elsewhere provided venues for live exposure, and a European tour in 1958 was well received. Such Sweet Thunder (1957), based on Shakespeare's plays and characters, and The Queen's Suite (1958), dedicated to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, were products of the renewed impetus which the Newport appearance helped to create, although the latter work was not commercially issued at the time. The late 1950s also saw Ella Fitzgerald record her Duke Ellington Songbook (Verve) 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'. Ellington at this time (with Strayhorn) began to work directly on scoring for film soundtracks, in particular Anatomy of a Murder (1959), with James Stewart, in which Ellington appeared fronting a roadhouse combo, and Paris Blues (1961), which featured Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as jazz musicians. Detroit Free Press music critic Mark Stryker concludes that the work of Billy Strayhorn and Ellington in Anatomy of a Murder a trial court drama film directed by Otto Preminger, 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."
  • 1956
    Age 56
    Ellington's appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956 returned him to wider prominence and introduced him to a new generation of fans.
    More Details Hide Details The feature "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" comprised two tunes that had been in the band's book since 1937 but largely forgotten until Ellington, who had abruptly ended the band's scheduled set because of the late arrival of four key players, called the two tunes as the time was approaching midnight. Announcing that the two pieces would be separated by an interlude played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Ellington proceeded to lead the band through the two pieces, with Gonsalves' 27-chorus marathon solo whipping the crowd into a frenzy, leading the Maestro to play way beyond the curfew time despite urgent pleas from festival organizer George Wein to bring the program to an end. The concert made international headlines, led to one of only five Time magazine cover stories dedicated to a jazz musician, and resulted in an album produced by George Avakian that would become the best-selling LP of Ellington's career. Much of the music on the vinyl LP was, in effect, simulated, with only about 40% actually from the concert itself. According to Avakian, Ellington was dissatisfied with aspects of the performance and felt the musicians had been under rehearsed. The band assembled the next day to re-record several of the numbers with the addition of artificial crowd noise, none of which was disclosed to purchasers of the album. Not until 1999 was the concert recording properly released for the first time. The revived attention brought about by the Newport appearance should not have surprised anyone, Johnny Hodges had returned the previous year, and Ellington's collaboration with Strayhorn had been renewed around the same time, under terms more amenable to the younger man.
  • 1955
    Age 55
    But Duke merely lifts his finger, three horns make a sound, and I don’t know what it is!" However, by 1955, after three years of recording for Capitol, Ellington lacked a regular recording affiliation.
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  • 1950
    Age 50
    Tenor player Paul Gonsalves had joined in December 1950 after periods with Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie and stayed for the rest of his life, while Clark Terry joined in November 1951.
    More Details Hide Details During the early 1950s, Ellington's career was at a low point with his style being generally seen as outmoded, but his reputation did not suffer as badly as some artists. André Previn said in 1952: "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.
    Ellington continued on his own course through these tectonic shifts. While Count Basie was forced to disband his whole ensemble and work as an octet for a time, Ellington was able to tour most of Western Europe between April 6 and June 30, 1950, with the orchestra playing 74 dates over 77 days.
    More Details Hide Details During the tour, according to Sonny Greer, the newer works were not performed, though Ellington's extended composition, Harlem (1950) was in the process of being completed at this time. Ellington later presented its score to music-loving President Harry Truman. Also during his time in Europe, Ellington would compose the music for a stage production by Orson Welles. Titled Time Runs in Paris and An Evening With Orson Welles in Frankfurt, the variety show also featured a newly discovered Eartha Kitt, who performed Ellington's original song "Hungry Little Trouble" as Helen of Troy. In 1951, Ellington suffered a significant loss of personnel: Sonny Greer, Lawrence Brown, and most importantly Johnny Hodges left to pursue other ventures, although only Greer was a permanent departee. Drummer Louie Bellson replaced Greer, and his "Skin Deep" was a hit for Ellington.
  • FORTIES
  • 1946
    Age 46
    Despite this disappointment, a Broadway production of Ellington's Beggar's Holiday, his sole book musical, premiered on December 23, 1946. under the direction of Nicholas Ray.
    More Details Hide Details The settlement of the first recording ban of 1942–43, leading to an increase in royalties paid to musicians, had a serious effect on the financial viability of the big bands, including Ellington's Orchestra. His income as a songwriter ultimately subsidized it. Although he always spent lavishly and drew a respectable income from the Orchestra's operations, the band's income often just covered expenses. World War II brought about a swift end to the big band era as musicians went off to serve in the military and travel restrictions made touring difficult. When the war ended, the focus of popular music shifted towards crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford, so Ellington's wordless vocal feature "Transblucency" (1946) with Kay Davis was not going to have a similar reach. With inflation setting in after 1945, the cost of hiring big bands went up and club owners preferred smaller jazz groups who played in new styles such as bebop. Dancing in clubs also subjected club owners to a new wartime tax which continued for many years after, which made small bands more cost-effective for club owners.
  • 1943
    Age 43
    Ellington debuted Black, Brown and Beige in Carnegie Hall on January 23, 1943, beginning an annual series of concerts there over the next four years. While some jazz musicians had played at Carnegie Hall before, none had performed anything as elaborate as Ellington's work. Unfortunately, starting a regular pattern, Ellington's longer works were generally not well received. A partial exception was Jump for Joy, a full-length musical based on themes of African-American identity, debuted on July 10, 1941, at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles.
    More Details Hide Details Hollywood luminaries such as actors John Garfield and Mickey Rooney invested in the production, and Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles offered to direct. At one performance though, Garfield insisted Herb Jeffries, who was light-skinned, should wear make-up. Ellington objected in the interval, and compared Jeffries to Al Jolson. The change was reverted, and the singer later commented that the audience must have thought he was an entirely different character in the second half of the show. Although it had sold-out performances, and received positive reviews, it ran for only 122 performances until September 29, 1941, with a brief revival in November of that year. Its subject matter did not make it appealing to Broadway; Ellington had unfulfilled plans to take it there.
  • 1942
    Age 42
    Ivie Anderson left in 1942 after eleven years: the longest term of any of Ellington's vocalists.
    More Details Hide Details Once again recording for Victor (from 1940), with the small groups recording for their Bluebird label, three-minute masterpieces on 78 rpm record sides continued to flow from Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Ellington's son Mercer Ellington, and members of the Orchestra. "Cotton Tail", "Main Stem", "Harlem Airshaft", "Jack the Bear", and dozens of others date from this period. Strayhorn's "Take the "A" Train" a hit in 1941, became the band's theme, replacing "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo". Ellington and his associates wrote for an orchestra of distinctive voices who displayed tremendous creativity. Mary Lou Williams, working as a staff arranger, would briefly join Ellington a few years later. Ellington's long-term aim though was to extend the jazz form from that three-minute limit, of which he was an acknowledged master. While he had composed and recorded some extended pieces before, such works now became a regular feature of Ellington's output. 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.
  • 1940
    Age 40
    Privately made by Jack Towers and Dick Burris, these recordings were first legitimately issued in 1978 as Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940 Live; they are among the earliest of innumerable live performances which survive.
    More Details Hide Details Nance was also an occasional vocalist, although Herb Jeffries was the main male vocalist in this era (until 1943) while Al Hibbler (who replaced Jeffries in 1943) continued until 1951.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1939
    Age 39
    Ben Webster, the Orchestra's first regular tenor saxophonist, whose main tenure with Ellington spanned 1939 to 1943, started a rivalry with Johnny Hodges as the Orchestra's foremost voice in the sax section.
    More Details Hide Details Trumpeter Ray Nance joined, replacing Cootie Williams who had defected to Benny Goodman. Additionally, Nance added violin to the instrumental colors Ellington had at his disposal. Recordings exist of Nance's first concert date on November 7, 1940, at Fargo, North Dakota.
    Billy Strayhorn, originally hired as a lyricist, began his association with Ellington in 1939.
    More Details Hide Details 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 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, playing the piano, on stage, and in the recording studio. The 1930s ended with a very successful European tour just as World War II loomed in Europe. Some of the musicians who joined Ellington at this time 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/melodic instrument rather than a rhythm instrument alone. Terminal illness forced him to leave by late 1941 after only about two years.
  • 1937
    Age 37
    After leaving agent Irving Mills, he signed on with the William Morris Agency. Mills though continued to record Ellington. After only a year, his Master and Variety labels, the small groups had recorded for the latter, collapsed in late 1937, Mills placed Ellington back on Brunswick and those small group units on Vocalion through to 1940.
    More Details Hide Details Well known sides continued to be recorded, "Caravan" in 1937, and "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" the following year.
    In 1937, Ellington returned to the Cotton Club which had relocated to the mid-town Theater District.
    More Details Hide Details In the summer of that year, his father died, and due to many expenses, Ellington's finances were tight, although his situation improved the following year.
  • 1936
    Age 36
    From 1936, Ellington began to make recordings with smaller groups (sextets, octets, and nonets) drawn from his then-15-man orchestra and he composed pieces intended to feature a 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.
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  • 1933
    Age 33
    While the band's United States audience remained mainly African-American in this period, the Ellington orchestra had a significant following overseas, exemplified by the success of their trip to England and Scotland in 1933 and their 1934 visit to the European mainland.
    More Details Hide Details The British visit saw Ellington win praise from members of the serious music community, including composer Constant Lambert, which gave a boost to Ellington's interest in composing longer works. Those longer pieces had already begun to appear. He had composed and recorded Creole Rhapsody as early as 1931 (issued as both sides of a 12" record for Victor and both sides of a 10" record for Brunswick), and a tribute to his mother, "Reminiscing in Tempo", took four 10" record sides to record in 1935 after her death in that year. Symphony in Black (also 1935), a short film, featured his extended piece 'A Rhapsody of Negro Life'. It introduced Billie Holiday, and won an Academy Award as the best musical short subject. Ellington and his Orchestra also appeared in the features Murder at the Vanities and Belle of the Nineties (both 1934).
  • 1932
    Age 32
    Ellington signed exclusively to Brunswick in 1932 and stayed with them through late 1936 (albeit with a short-lived 1933–34 switch to Victor when Irving Mills temporarily moved him and his other acts from Brunswick). As the Depression worsened, the recording industry was in crisis, dropping over 90% of its artists by 1933.
    More Details Hide Details Ivie Anderson was hired as their featured vocalist in 1931. She is the vocalist on "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" (1932) among other recordings. Sonny Greer had been providing occasional vocals and continued to do in a cross-talk feature with Anderson. Radio exposure helped maintain Ellington's public profile as his orchestra began to tour. The other records of this era include: "Mood Indigo" (1930), "Sophisticated Lady" (1933), "Solitude" (1934), and "In a Sentimental Mood" (1935)
    Ellington led the orchestra by conducting from the keyboard using piano cues and visual gestures; very rarely did he conduct using a baton. By 1932 his orchestra consisted of six brass instruments, four reeds, and a four-man rhythm section.
    More Details Hide Details As a bandleader, Ellington was not a strict disciplinarian; he maintained control of his orchestra with a 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.
  • 1931
    Age 31
    Ellington's first period at the Cotton Club concluded in 1931.
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  • 1930
    Age 30
    He also appeared in the Amos 'n' Andy film Check and Double Check released in 1930.
    More Details Hide Details That year, Ellington and his Orchestra connected with a whole different audience in a concert with Maurice Chevalier and they also performed at the Roseland Ballroom, "America's foremost ballroom". Australian-born composer Percy Grainger was an early admirer and supporter. He wrote "The three greatest composers who ever lived are Bach, Delius and Duke Ellington. Unfortunately Bach is dead, Delius is very ill but we are happy to have with us today The Duke".
  • TWENTIES
  • 1927
    Age 27
    In October 1927, Ellington and his Orchestra recorded several compositions with Adelaide Hall.
    More Details Hide Details One side in particular, "Creole Love Call", became a worldwide sensation and gave both Ellington and Hall their first hit record. Miley had composed most of "Creole Love Call" and "Black and Tan Fantasy". An alcoholic, Miley had to leave the band before they gained wider fame. He died in 1932 at the age of 29, but he was an important influence on Cootie Williams, who replaced him. In 1929, 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., Ruby Keeler, and with music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Gus Kahn. Will Vodery, Ziegfeld's musical supervisor, recommended Ellington for the show, and, according to John Hasse's Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, "Perhaps during the run of Show Girl, Ellington received what he later termed ' valuable lessons in orchestration from Will Vodery.' In his 1946 biography, Duke Ellington, Barry Ulanov wrote:
    In September 1927, King Oliver turned down a regular booking for his group as the house band at Harlem's Cotton Club; the offer passed to Ellington after Jimmy McHugh suggested him and Mills arranged an audition.
    More Details Hide Details Ellington had to increase from a six to eleven-piece group to meet the requirements of the Cotton Club's management for the audition, and the engagement finally began on December 4. With a weekly radio broadcast, the Cotton Club's exclusively white and wealthy clientele poured in nightly to see them. 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. (Here he moved in with a dancer, his second wife Mildred Dixon.) Weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave Ellington national exposure, while Ellington also recorded Fields-JMcHugh and Fats Waller–Andy Razaf songs. Although trumpeter Bubber Miley was a member of the orchestra for only a short period, he had a major influence on Ellington's sound. As an early exponent of growl trumpet, Miley changed the sweet dance band sound of the group to one that was hotter, which contemporaries termed Jungle Style.
  • 1926
    Age 26
    In October 1926, Ellington made an agreement with agent-publisher Irving Mills, giving Mills a 45% interest in Ellington's future.
    More Details Hide Details Mills had an eye for new talent and published compositions by Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, and Harold Arlen early in their careers. After recording a handful of acoustic titles during 1924–26, Ellington's signing with Mills allowed him to record prolifically, although sometimes he recorded different versions of the same tune. Mills often took a co-composer credit. From the beginning of their relationship, Mills arranged recording sessions on nearly every label including Brunswick, Victor, Columbia, OKeh, Pathê (and its Perfect label), the ARC/Plaza group of labels (Oriole, Domino, Jewel, Banner) and their dime-store labels (Cameo, Lincoln, Romeo), Hit of the Week, and Columbia's cheaper labels (Harmony, Diva, Velvet Tone, Clarion) labels which gave Ellington popular recognition. On OKeh, his records were usually issued as The Harlem Footwarmers, while the Brunswick's were usually issued as The Jungle Band. Whoopee Makers and the Ten Black Berries were other pseudonyms.
  • 1925
    Age 25
    In 1925, Ellington contributed four songs to Chocolate Kiddies starring Lottie Gee and Adelaide Hall, an all-African-American revue which introduced European audiences to African-American styles and performers.
    More Details Hide Details Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra grew to a group of ten players; they developed their own sound by 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 soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet played with them, imparting his propulsive swing and superior musicianship to the young band members.
  • 1924
    Age 24
    Ellington made eight records in 1924, receiving composing credit on three including "Choo Choo".
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    Snowden left the group in early 1924 and Ellington took over as bandleader.
    More Details Hide Details After a fire, the club was re-opened as the Club Kentucky (often referred to as the Kentucky Club).
  • 1923
    Age 23
    This was 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.
    More Details Hide Details He was known to play the bugle at the end of each performance. The group was initially called Elmer Snowden and his Black Sox Orchestra and had seven members, including trumpeter James "Bubber" Miley. They renamed themselves The Washingtonians.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1919
    Age 19
    The next spring, on March 11, 1919, Edna gave birth to their only son, Mercer Kennedy Ellington.
    More Details Hide Details Ellington was joined in New York City by his wife and son in the late twenties, but the couple soon permanently separated. According to her obituary in Jet magazine, she was "homesick for Washington" and returned. In 1928, Ellington became the companion of Mildred Dixon, who traveled with him, managed Tempo Music, inspired songs at the peak of his career, and reared his son Mercer. In 1938 he left his family (his son was then 19) and moved in with Beatrice "Evie" Ellis, a Cotton Club employee. Their relationship, though stormy, continued after Ellington met and formed a relationship with Fernanda de Castro Monte in the early 1960s. Ellington supported both women for the rest of his life. Ellington's sister Ruth (1915–2004) later ran Tempo Music, his music publishing company. Ruth's second husband was the bass-baritone McHenry Boatwright, whom she met when he sang at her brother's funeral.
  • 1918
    Age 18
    Ellington married his high school sweetheart, Edna Thompson (d. 1967), on July 2, 1918, when he was 19.
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  • 1917
    Age 17
    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).
    More Details Hide Details He was also the group's 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 childhood friend Otto Hardwick, who began playing the string bass, then moved to C-melody sax and finally settled on alto 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 in the segregated society of the day. 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 Harlem, ultimately becoming part of the Harlem Renaissance. New dance crazes such as 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 gigs they could find. The young band met stride pianist 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, the young musicians returned to Washington, D.C., feeling discouraged.
    Working as a freelance sign-painter from 1917, Ellington began assembling groups to play for dances.
    More Details Hide Details In 1919 he met drummer Sonny Greer from New Jersey, who encouraged Ellington's ambition to become a professional musician. Ellington built his music business through his day job: when a customer asked him to make a sign for a dance or party, he would ask if they had musical entertainment; if not, Ellington would offer to play for the occasion. He also had a messenger job with the U.S. Navy and State departments, where he made a wide range of contacts. Ellington moved out of his parents' home and bought his own as he became a successful pianist.
  • 1916
    Age 16
    Ellington started to play gigs in cafés and clubs in and around Washington, D.C. His attachment to music was so strong that in 1916 he turned down an art scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
    More Details Hide Details Three months before graduating he dropped out of Armstrong Manual Training School, where he was studying commercial art.
  • 1914
    Age 14
    In the summer of 1914, while working as a soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Café, Ellington wrote his first composition, "Soda Fountain Rag" (also known as the "Poodle Dog Rag").
    More Details Hide Details He created the piece by ear, as 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 wrote that 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 the age of fourteen. Hearing the poolroom pianists play ignited Ellington's love for the instrument, and he began to take his piano studies seriously. Among the many piano players he listened to were Doc Perry, Lester Dishman, Louis Brown, Turner Layton, Gertie Wells, Clarence Bowser, Sticky Mack, Blind Johnny, Cliff Jackson, Claude Hopkins, Phil Wurd, Caroline Thornton, Luckey Roberts, Eubie Blake, Joe Rochester, and Harvey Brooks.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1899
    Born
    Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29, 1899, to James Edward Ellington and Daisy (Kennedy) Ellington in Washington, D.C. Both his parents were pianists.
    More Details Hide Details Daisy primarily played parlor songs and James preferred operatic arias. They lived with his maternal grandparents at 2129 Ida Place (now Ward Place), NW, in the West End neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Duke's father was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina, 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, the daughter of a former American slave. James Ellington made blueprints for the United States Navy. When Ellington was a child, his family showed racial pride and support in their home, as did many other families. African Americans in D.C. worked to protect their children from the era's Jim Crow laws. 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."
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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