Duke and during the summers, where he and
Duke Ellington was an American jazz bandleader, composer, and pianist.
He is thought of as one the greatest figures in jazz. The French government honored him with their highest award, the Legion of Honor, while the government of the United States awarded him with the highest civil honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He played for the royalty and for the common people and by the end of his fifty-year career, he had played over 20,000 performances worldwide. He was the Duke, Duke Ellington.Edward Kennedy was his real name; he was born on April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C. Duke’s parents Daisy Kennedy Ellington and James Edward Ellington served as ideal role models for Duke and taught him everything from table manners to an understanding of the emotional power of music.
Duke’s first piano lessons were when he was around seven or eight and they didn’t have much of an effect upon him. Duke was more into baseball when he was younger. Duke got his first job selling peanuts at Washington Senator’s baseball games. This was the first time Duke was placed as a performer for a crowd and had to get over his stage fright.
When Duke was fourteen he began sneaking to Frank Holliday’s poolroom. His experiences from the poolroom taught him to appreciate the value in mixing with a lot of people. As duke’s piano lessons faded into the past, Duke began to show an interest for the artistic. Duke went to Armstrong Manual Training School to study commercial art instead of an academically oriented school.
Duke began to seek out and listen to ragtime pianists in Washington and during the summers, where he and his mother vacationed in Philadelphia or Atlantic City. While vacationing in Asbury Park, Duke heard of a good pianist named Harvey Brooks. At the end of his vacation Duke sought Harvey out in Philadelphia where Harvey showed Duke some pianist tricks and shortcuts. Duke now had a real yearning to play when he got home. Soon later Duke’s music career started.Duke met Oliver “Doc” Perry and Louis Brown who helped teach him how to read music and helped improve his overall piano playing skills.
Duke found some jobs playing at clubs and cafes in the Washington area. Three months before Duke graduated he dropped out of school and began his professional music career. Duke formed his own music group called, The Duke’s Serenaders, in late 1917. Between 1918 and 1919, Duke made three important steps towards independence.
First, he moved 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 that Duke’s band was able to play through out the Washington area and into Virginia for private society balls and embassy parties. Finally, Duke married Edna Thompson and on March 11, 1919, Mercer Kennedy Ellington was born.
Duke left the security that Washington offered him and moved to New York, in 1923. Through the power of radio, listeners through out New York had heard of Duke Ellington, making him a popular musician. Also in 1923 Duke mad his first recording.Ellington and his renamed band, The Washingtonians, established themselves during the prohibition era by playing at places like the Exclusive Club, Connie’s Inn, the Hollywood Club (Club Kentucky), Ciro’s the Plantation Club, and most importantly the Cotton Club.
Thanks to the rise in radio receivers and the industry itself, Duke’s band was broadcast across the nation live on from the Cotton Club. The band’s music along with their popularity spread rapidly.In 1928, Ellington and Irving Mills signed an agreement in which Mills produced and published Ellington’s music.
Recording companies like Brunswick, Columbia, Victor came calling. Duke’s band became the most sought after band in the United States and even throughout the world. Some of Ellington’s greatest work included, Rockin’ in Rhythm, Satin Doll, 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 to play everywhere from New York City to New Deli, Chicago to Cairo, and Los Angeles to London. Ellington and his band played with such greats as Mile Davis, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Louis Armstrong. They entertained everyone from Queen Elizabeth ll.
to President Nixon. Before passing away in 1974, Duke Ellington wrote and recorded hundreds of musical compositions, all of which continue to have lasting effect upon people worldwide for a long time to come. By: Frank Hansen