Duke EllingtonBy Frank GrayBy the time of his passing, he was considered amongst the worlds greatestcomposers and musicians. The French government honored him with their highestaward, the Legion of Honor, while the government of the United States bestowedupon him the highest civil honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He playedfor the royalty and for the common people and by the end of his fifty-yearcareer, he had played over 20,000 performances worldwide. He was the Duke,Duke EllingtonEdward Kennedy Ellington was born into the world on April 28, 1899 inWashington, D.C. Dukes parents Daisy Kennedy Ellington and James EdwardEllington served as ideal role models for young Duke and taught him everythingfrom proper table manners to an understanding of the emotional power of music.Dukes first piano lessons came around the age of seven or eight and appearedto not have that much lasting effect upon him. It seemed as if young Duke wasmore inclined to baseball at a young age. Duke got his first job selling peanutsat Washington Senators baseball games. This was the first time Duke wasplaced as a “performer” for a crowd and had to first get over hisstage fright.
At the age of fourteen, Duke began sneaking into Frank Hollidayspoolroom.His experiences from the poolroom taught him to appreciate the value inmixing with a wide range of people. As Dukes piano lessons faded into thepast, Duke began to show a flare for the artistic. Duke attended ArmstrongManual Training School to study commercial art instead of anacademically-oriented school. Duke began to seek out and listen to ragtimepianists in Washington and during the summers, where he and his mothervacationed in Philadelphia or Atlantic City. While vacationing in Asbury Park,Duke heard of a hot pianist named Harvey Brooks. At the end of his vacation Dukesought Harvey out in Philadelphia where Harvey showed Duke some pianistic tricksand shortcuts. Duke later recounted that, “When I got home I had a realyearning to play.
I hadnt been able to get off the ground before, but afterhearing him I said to myself, Man youre going to have to do it.”Thus the music career of Duke Ellington was born.Duke was taken under the wings of Oliver “Doc” Perry and LouisBrown who taught Duke how to read music and helped improve his overall pianoplaying skills. Duke found piano playing jobs at clubs and cafes throughout theWashington area. Three months shy of graduation, Duke dropped out of school andbegan his professional music career.In late 1917, Duke formed his first group: The Dukes Serenaders.
Between1918 and 1919, Duke made three significant steps towards independence. First, hemoved out of his parents home and into a home he bought for himself. Second,Duke became his own booking agent for his band. By doing so, Ellingtons bandwas able to play throughout the Washington area and into Virginia for privatesociety balls and embassy parties. Finally, Duke married Edna Thompson and onMarch 11, 1919, Mercer Kennedy Ellington was born.In 1923, Duke left the security that Washington offered him and moved to NewYork. Through the power of radio, listeners throughout New York had heard ofDuke Ellington, making him quite a popular musician.
It is also in that yearthat Duke made his first recording. Ellington and his renamed band, TheWashingtonians, established themselves during the prohibition era by playing atplaces like the Exclusive Club, Connies Inn, the Hollywood Club (ClubKentucky), Ciros, the Plantation Club, and most importantly the Cotton Club.Thanks to the rise in radio receivers and the industry itself, Dukes band wasbroadcast across the nation live on “From the Cotton Club.” The bandsmusic along with their popularity spread rapidly.In 1928, Ellington and Irving Mills signed an agreement in which Millsproduced and published Ellingtons music. Recording companies like Brunswick,Columbia, and Victor came calling.
Dukes band became the most sought afterband in the United States and even throughout the world.Some of Ellingtons greatest works include, Rockin in Rhythm, SatinDoll, New Orleans, A Drum is a Women, Take the “A” Train,Happy-Go-Lucky Local, The Mooche, and Crescendo in Blue.Duke Ellington and his band went on to play everywhere from New York to NewDeli, Chicago to Cairo, and Los Angeles to London. Ellington and his band playedwith such greats as Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald,Tony Bennett, and Louis Armstrong.
They entertained everyone from QueenElizabeth II to President Nixon. Before passing away in 1974, Duke Ellingtonwrote and recorded hundreds of musical compositions, all of which continue tohave a lasting effect upon people worldwide for a long time to come.Category: Book Reports