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Ellington, Duke

Ellington, Duke

Born in 1899


Inducted in 1998

The enormously popular bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington (Edward Kennedy Ellington) was not only the most significant composer in the realm of jazz, but without question one of most influential musicians of his time. He composed nearly 2,000 works, ranging from short instrumental pieces to symphonic works, film scores, music for the theater, and sacred music.
The young Ellington began piano studies at age 7 and made his professional debut at 17. From 1923-1927 Ellington’s orchestra, originally known as the Washingtonians, played at a Times Square establishment known first as the Hollywood Inn and later as the Kentucky Club; during those years the orchestra also began broadcasting. In the fall of 1930 Ellington’s became the first black orchestra ever to appear on the stage of Broadway’s Paramount Theater.
Following a highly successful European tour in 1932-33, Ellington composed two more of his most celebrated pieces, Solitude and In a Sentimental Mood and then, as the Depression was beginning to be felt in the music industry, began pioneering tours of the American South that were to continue to the end of his life.
Ellington and his orchestra made a second European tour in 1939, this time enjoying huge success in Sweden, Belgium, France, Holland and Denmark; and again a fruitful period of composing followed his return home. In the 1950s Ellington composed two “symphonic” works for the NBC Symphony Orchestra: Night Creatures and Harlem.
The orchestra continued to tour (U.S., Europe, Japan), and in 1956 participated for the first of many times in the famous Newport Jazz Festival. In 1959 Ellington composed the score for the Otto Preminger film Anatomy of a Murder. In his last years he turned toward religious music, composing three sacred services which were performed, respectively, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (1965), the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York (1968), and under the sponsorship of the United Nations at Westminster Abbey, London (1973).
Ellington received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP in 1958, and honorary doctorates from Howard University and Yale. President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to the National Council on the Arts in 1968, he was elected to membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1970, and in the following year he became the first jazz musician names a member of the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.

Listen to Ellington, Duke


Performer: Fats Waller (piano)
Courtesy Of: Muzak Historic Archive

Audio Tour

Courtesy of WGUC 90.9 FM