Duke Ellington

by Dorian Gray

Duke Early Years

- Duke Ellington was an amazing Pianist, an African American composer, and bandleader of jazz orchestras. Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born April 29, 1899 in Washington D.C.. He was raised in a middle class neighborhood by his two parents, Daisy Kennedy Ellington and James Edward Ellington, who were also two talented musicians. Ellington began playing piano at the age of 7 years old. His received the nickname "Duke" because of his gentlemanly ways. He worked as a soda jerk at the age of 15 and it inspired him to write his first composition " Soda Fountain Rag." Ellington was offered an art scholarship to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, but he chose to stay with his passion for ragtime. Three months prior to graduation Ellington dropped out of school, and at the 17 years old, he began to play professionally.

Duke's Life as a Professional Musician

- In 1917, Duke put together his first group, The Duke's Serenaders. By himself, he became his own agent and performed all over D.C. and Virginia. Between 1918 and 1919 he moved out of his parents house and moved into a house he paid for himself. On July 2, 1918 he married Edna Thompson. On March 11, 1919 they had a son named Mercer Kennedy Ellington. The famous Duke Ellington Orchestra was formed in 1926 and was one of the top five for 48 years. In 1928, Ellington's music was produced and published for the first time ever by songwriter and music scout Irving Mills. At that time, the recording limit for most music was three minutes. One of Ellington's long-term goals was to extend pass the three minute limit. He recorded a longer song called Creole Rhapsody in 1931, but it wasn't featured in his work until the 1940's. In the 1960's he was between recording contracts, so he was able to work with, and record with other musicians. During this time he produced an album with Charles Mingus and Max Roach in 1962 called Money Jungle. In 1965, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

- Being one of the greatest jazz composers, he had a huge impact on popular music in the 1920's. He has been doing what he loved for over 50 years. Today his recordings are still part of most popular jazz music of the big-band era.

- Duke Ellington died May 24, 1974. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. The Duke Ellington School of Arts in Washington D.C., was devoted to his legacy in music. After Ellington's death, the Duke Ellington Orchestra continued as the Ghost Band, which was led by his son Mercer Ellington.

Duke Ellington - It don't mean a thing (1943)


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