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