Duke Ellington

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Duke Ellington

Frankfurt am Main, February 6, 1965
Background information
Birth name Edward Kennedy Ellington
Born April 29, 1899(1899-04-29)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Died May 24, 1974(1974-05-24) (aged 75)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz, Swing, Big band
Occupations Bandleader, pianist, composer
Instruments Piano
Years active 1914–1974

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and Big band leader. He was one of the most important musicians in the history of recorded music, and is called one of the greatest figures in jazz music. He also played blues, gospel, pop, and classical music. He worked for 60 years. He became even more popular after he died. He was given a special award citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1999.[1]

Ellington called his music "American Music", not "jazz".[2] Some of the people who played in Ellington's band were also famous or important jazz musicians.

Ellington led his band from 1923 until he died of lung cancer in 1974. His son Mercer Ellington took over the band until he died of cancer in 1996. Then Paul Ellington, Mercer's youngest son, took over the band.

Life[change | edit source]

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29, 1899. His parents were called James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. They lived with Daisy's parents in Washington, D.C.[3] James Edward Ellington (J.E.) was born in Lincolnton, North Carolina on April 15, 1879 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1886 with his parents.[4] Daisy Kennedy was born in Washington, D.C. on January 4, 1879. Her father had been an American slave.[3][5] J.E. worked for the United States Navy. He also worked as a butler for a white doctor. He occasionally worked as a caterer at the White House..Daisy and J.E. were both piano players.

When he was seven, Ellington began learning to play the piano. Daisy helped her son to learn good manners. Ellington’s friends noticed that he acted like a gentleman,[6] and gave him a nickname, "Duke"."[7] At first, Ellington was more interested in baseball than playing the piano. He later remembered President Theodore Roosevelt watched him play baseball.[8] Ellington went to Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D.C. His first job was selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games. This job helped him to become more confident.

In 1914, Ellington wrote his first song. He had a job in a café, serving soda, using a soda fountain. His song was called "Soda Fountain Rag". He could not read or write music yet.[9] Ellington missed a lot of piano lessons and did not think he was very good at it. When he was 14 he heard pianists playing in a poolroom. He was inspired to try harder with his piano playing.

He heard the piano played in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Atlantic City. He tried to copy the styles he heard.[9] He started to learn about harmony, and learned to read and write music. He started to play gigs in cafés and clubs in Washington, D.C. He had a scholarship to study art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1916 but he decided to concentrate on his music instead.

Between 1917 and 1919, Ellington started his professional music career. During the day, he had a job painting signs. At night, he played the piano. Sometimes, he got work playing the piano from people that he met in his other job. He started his first band, "The Duke’s Serenaders".[10] They played in Washington, D.C. and Virginia at dances and parties. The other musicians in his band were Otto Hardwick, on bass and then saxophone; Arthur Whetsol on trumpet; Elmer Snowden on banjo; and Sonny Greer on drums. They played for both white and black people, which was unusual then.[11]

Footnotes[change | edit source]

  1. 1999 Pulitzer Prize Winners Special Awards and Citations
  2. Tucker 1995, p. 6 writes "He tried to avoid the word 'jazz' preferring 'Negro' or 'American' music. He claimed there was only two types of music, 'good' and 'bad' ... And he embraced a phrase coined by his colleague Billy Strayhorn – 'beyond category' – as a liberating principle."
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lawrence 2001, p. 1.
  4. Lawrence 2001, p. 2.
  5. Hasse 1995, p. 21.
  6. Terkel 2002.
  7. Ellington 1976, p. 20
  8. Ellington 1976, p. 10.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Ellington, Duke". Current Biography. H.W. Wilson Company, 1970.
  10. Simmonds, Yussuf (09-11-2008). "Duke Ellington". Los Angeles Sentinel. http://www.lasentinel.net/Duke-Ellington.html. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  11. Cohen, Harvey G. (Autumn 2004). "The Marketing of Duke Ellington: Setting the Strategy for an African American Maestro". The Journal of African-American History (Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, Inc.) 89 (4): 291-315. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4134056. Retrieved 2009-07-14.

References[change | edit source]