By Noah Evans
Ellington didn't do much with music in his childhood. At age 17, he started taking piano lessons. Ellington wrote his first piece, Soda Fountain Rag, while working as a soda fountain operator at The Poodle Dog Cafe. He learned how to read and write sheet music at age 18 when he started watching ragtime pianists. He was taught better piano skills when he finally got to meet a pianist after one of their shows.
Ellington started working as a sign painter from age 20; he would usually paint signs for dances and parties. After perfecting his piano playing, Ellington would ask his clients if they had anyone employed for music at their parties. If not, then he offered to play for them. He made extra money by entertaining the guests.
Once Ellington moved out of his parent's home, he formed a jazz band comprised of his friends and a drummer he had met after a performance that had recently left his old band. "The Duke's Serenaders," as they were called, played all around DC and Virginia in parties and weddings until they became famous within the state. This was the beginning of the famous musician, Duke Ellington.
The band soon got letters from one of the best clubs in Harlem, and they quickly moved into the Hollywood Club where they were loved by many. After a fire, the band, now called The Washingtonians, renamed the Hollywood Club to the Kentucky Club.
Ellington released eight records in this time, and was widely known as the leader of a unique jazz band that played in the prestigious Kentucky Club.
From there, the leader of The Washingtonians moved across the country, performing in various clubs on the piano.
Ellington left the club scene during the Second World War. Once the war ended, people flocked more towards artists like Frank Sinatra, as Ellington had lost his touch.
Ellington saw career revival when he attended the National Jazz Festival in 1956. This introduced him to a new generation of fans to play for.
With this new audience, Ellington started recording film soundtracks. His most recognized work was that of Anatomy of a Murder. Film historians credit this as one of the first prominent film soundtrack composed by an African American.
Ellington was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in music, but did not win. He later received an award in 1999, 25 years after his death. He received many lifetime awards that he will sadly never hear about since almost all of his major recognition happened postmortem.
This is considered one of Ellington's finer performances, and I thought it would be nice to include since it gives you a strong representation of Ellington's work.