- Ellington, Edward Kennedy
- (“Duke”)(1899-1974)The African American jazz musician and composer was born Edward Kennedy Ellington but acquired the nickname “Duke” as a schoolboy in Washington, D.C. Ellington did not have professional musical training, but he learned how to play from other black musicians. He formed his first group in 1917, and in 1923 he and several band members moved to Harlem, New York, where they found work in clubs. In 1924, Ellington became the bandleader and developed an improvisational style of composition. In 1926, the Ellington band recorded “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” followed in 1927 by “Birmingham Breakdown” and “Black and Tan Fantasy.” It was in 1927 that the group became the resident band at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club. Over the coming years, Ellington and his band composed and recorded the jazz classics “Creole Love Call” (1927), “Mood Indigo,” (1930) “Sophisticated Lady” (1932), “Solitude” (1934), and many more. With successful recording and live radio broadcasts from the Cotton Club from 1931 onward, Ellington became a major figure in popular music. In 1933, he made his first visit to London and other European locations.Ellington continued to produce great jazz hits through band and record label changes. After moving from Columbia to Victor in 1940, the band recorded “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Cotton Tail,” and “Ko-Ko.” He also began to produce symphonic pieces, like “Black, Brown, Beige,” in 1943, and extended pieces, like “Harlem,” in 1948. After a brief lull in their success, the Ellington band had a revival of fortunes following a performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956, and they continued to perform throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as well as provide film scores and music for theater. Before he died, Ellington had been awarded honorary degrees, membership in the American Institute of Arts and Letters, the French Legion of Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.