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Saturday, 3 January 2015

Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born to James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington on April 29, 1899. They lived with his maternal grandparents at 2129 Ida Place (now Ward Place), NW in the West End neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Daisy and J.E. were both pianists. Daisy primarily played parlor songs and J.E. preferred operatic arias.

Ellington's father worked sometimes as a caterer at the White House.

Ellington's friends noticed that he acted like a gentleman, and gave him a nickname, "Duke"

Despite the fact that both of his parents were amateur pianists, Ellington preferred baseball to piano lessons when he was a child.

His first job was selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games.


In 1914, Ellington wrote his first song. He had a job in a café,serving soda, using a soda fountain. His song was called "Soda Fountain Rag."

Ellington married his high school sweetheart, Edna Thompson on July 2, 1918, when he was 19.

Shortly after their marriage, on March 11, 1919 Edna gave birth to their only son, Mercer Kennedy Ellington.

Mercer Ellington became a jazz trumpeter and composer. He lead his own bands, many of whose members went on to play with his father, or to achieve independent fame (notably Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Carmen McRae).


Between 1917 and 1919, Ellington started his professional music career. During the day, he had a job painting signs. At night, he played the piano.

In about 1918 he formed a band to play local engagements, and by 1923 he was in New York City leading a small band at the Kentucky Club.

As the leader of his own orchestra, Ellington became the first arranger to integrate "hot' jazz solos within the framework of a written score.


Duke Ellington's orchestra was the house band at the Cotton Club from December 4, 1927, to June 30, 1931. The club gave Ellington national exposure through radio broadcasts originating there.

Ellington poses with his piano at the KFG Radio Studio November 3, 1954.

"Mood Indigo" was first recorded for Brunswick Records on October 15, 1930. The song was developed from an instrumental called "Dreamy Blues," written by one of the best musicians in New Orleans in the early 20th century, Lorenzo Tio, Jr. It became a standard of not only Ellington's orchestra, but it has been recorded countless times by musical legends such as Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.

"Mood Indigo" record by Duke Ellington orchestra

Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got that Swing)," released on February 2, 1932, introduced the word "swing" into the popular lexicon. Ellington was not really trying to do that. He said that "swing" was simply "Harlem for rhythm."


Ellington lived for years in a townhouse on the corner of Manhattan's Riverside Drive and West 106th Street. After his death, West 106th Street was officially renamed Duke Ellington Boulevard.

Ellington led his band from 1923 until he died of lung cancer on May 24, 1974 aged 75. His son Mercer Ellington took over the band until he died of cancer in 1996. Then Paul Ellington, Mercer's youngest son, took over the band.


His legacy continued to rise after his death, and Ellington was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for music in 1999.

Stevie Wonder’s 1977 hit "Sir Duke" was written in Ellington's honor.

Sources Songfacts.com, Wikipedia

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