"Music is my mistress, she plays second fiddle to no one."

Early Life

Edward Kennedy Ellington (Duke Ellington) was born on April 29, 1899, in Washington, D.C. As a child, Duke grew up in a middle-class family, his father was a hard working man and his mother was a religious woman. When Duke was around the age of 10, his mother enrolled him in piano lessons as an extra-curricular. Unfortunately, Duke's piano teacher gave up on him because Duke would always want to play sounds and chords that were not as popular at the time. From an early age, Duke knew he wanted to produce his own unique sound in the music world, he did not want his music to be limited.

Mid Life

When Edward reached high school, he had been given the nickname of "Duke" because he was said to have charming manners. As a teen, Duke decided he did not want to pursue baseball any longer. Instead, Duke put forth his time towards playing the piano and creating music. On the weekends and after school, Duke would go to local band halls to listen to popular musicians play and then go home to practice his own music. When Duke was a young adult, he began forming and managing jazz bands around the D.C. area. Many new composers wanted to work with Duke because he was known for being fair with work and letting band members express their musical creativity. Most band leaders at this time period were not like this, so it only made since for Duke to have many musical peers.

Impact of Duke Ellington

At first, Duke and his band only performed for majority black audiences, but as their fame began to progress, they began to perform for white audiences also. The name of Dukes group was "Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians", after a few years of doing major club appearances and live radio shows, they were known from coast to coast. Duke and his band were known for their unique "Jungle Sound". This sound was often ad-libbed each time and audiences loved it. Although Duke was very popular during the 1920's-30's there came a time where Jazz started to change and become less popular. During these years, Duke did not release too many songs, instead he focused on improving the next up-and-coming artists. Once the 50's hit, Duke and his fellow bandmates decided that it was time to retire from music once and for all. However, Duke and the band would still have interviews and special shows from time to time. In the late 60's, Duke was starting to hit old age. But this did not stop Duke, Duke continued to write for other artists before finally passing away in 1974.

Duke Ellington Pictures

Duke Ellington and His Band

This picture shows Duke Ellington and his band performing the song "Take the A Train". There are both whites and blacks performing on the stage, this shows Ellington's non-discriminating ways towards. Duke was just a man who liked to put on a good musical show with his closest friends.

Duke Stars in TIME Magazine

On Monday, August 20, 1956, Duke was placed on the cover of TIME magazine. Duke's music placed impacts on many people all over America. Especially towards the black community. Not even a century before Duke came about Blacks were slaves and treated like animals. Duke making it on the cover represents that blacks were beginning to have something positive to live for.

Duke Ellington LIVE!

The image to the left shows a billboard broadcasting that Duke and his band will be performing. This picture hold significance because although we still have concerts today, music during this time was less predictable and was always as LIVE as possible. Duke offered pieces to music that are not offered in 2014.

Take the A Train

Duke Ellington, "Take the A Train"

How many different instruments can you spot while listening to this song?

Sources Used


"Duke Ellington." Notable Black American Men, Book II. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit: Gale, 1998. U.S. History in Context. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

"Duke Ellington." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: Gale, 2013. U.S. History in Context. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.