Duke Ellington

A Man With a Piano Who Changed Our Country

The Early Life of "The Duke"

Born on April 29, 1899 in Washington D.C., Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was raised by two very musically talented parents, James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. Edward earned his nickname “Duke” because of his “gentlemanly” ways, this stemming from his piano playing. His first introduction to music was when he was seven and learned to play the piano and when he was 15, he wrote his first composition, “Soda Fountain Rag.” He was offered a scholarship for art to Pratt Institute, but he turned it down and began playing professionally at age 17.

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Ellington's Career

During the 1920s the Duke started playing in Broadway nightclubs, in particular, and exclusive club called the Cotton Club. He was the leader of a band made up of six people, all who were very original artists, which the Duke loved. The ensemble grew to fifteen people and they made hundreds of recordings. They even toured Europe twice in the 1930s. The Duke’s fame reached a peak in the 1940s when he composed some of his most popular songs, "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing," "Sophisticated Lady," "Prelude to a Kiss," "Solitude," and "Satin Doll."


Below is a short biography about Duke Ellington's career and a little about his later life too. You will also learn about some of the struggles of the band during the Great Depression.

Duke Ellington - Mini Bio

Duke Ellington's Music

Pianist Duke Ellington was extremely famous for his jazz style pieces. This was one of Duke's greatest successes in music, and arguable his most famous piece. You've probably heard it or of it somewhere before.
Duke Ellington - "It Don't Mean A Thing"

This is the audio piece of one of the Duke's most famous songs, "It Don't Mean A Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)." This recording is of a concert he had in 1943.

The Duke of Today

Duke Ellington was extremely famous as a composer and band leader, but most importantly, as a pianist. There is one more current singer-song writer and composer who has also made the world pay attention to him with his piano, Billy Joel, "The Piano Man." Billy Joel had his peak of fame in the late 70s and early 80s, but is still quite famous today. Bill Joel had a slow start with a not-so-great first album, but when his second album, "Piano Man" cam out, he was an instant success. He was born in 1949, and by 1999 he had made over $100,000,000 from his music. He landed a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his extraordinary talents and has recently started to turn towards some more composing with more classical pieces and is still in the music industry today.

Billy Joel's Music

Here is one of Billy Joel's big hits, "Piano Man." Although Billy Joel's style is not much like the Duke's, these two men have both made a big impact on music with their piano playing skills and unique styles, and this is his most famous piece by a long-shot.
Billy Joel - "Piano Man"

This is one of Billy Joel's most popular songs, people often call him "The Piano Man" because of this song.

Duke's Legacy

On May 24, 1974, the Duke passed away. This tragedy swept across the entire nation, affecting everybody. Thousands of people attended the Duke's funeral and people still find ways to honor him. Stevie Wonder wrote his song "Sir Duke" in honor of Ellington's enormous impact on American culture and Stevie Wonder's own musical style. Duke Ellington revolutionized music, in particular jazz, making it into something entirely his own and it got people's attention. Ellington opened people's eyes to African Americans being just as involved with music as white people by doing things like performing at the Cotton Club, which was exclusively for whites. Edward Kennedy Ellington was a man who played a paino and changed our country for the better.