• Composer of the Week:  Edward "Duke" Ellington
    Presented for Black History Month
    Ellington Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was perhaps the most famous composer/Big Band leader of the Big Band era (during the 1930’s and 1940’s).    He was born in April of 1899 in Washington, D.C.  His parents were both pianists, though neither was particularly famous.  While he started taking lessons at age 7, he really enjoyed baseball as well.  His first job was selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games. 

    Ellington wrote his first pieces by ear because he could not yet read or write music.  He first wrote ragtime jazz pieces for piano.  He dropped out of a technical high school where he was studying commercial art, and made a living making signs for businesses while still taking gigs at dances and other events.  In 1919, the drummer for one of the bands he played with convinced him to be a professional musician.  He soon moved to Harlem, New York City and formed his own band. 


    Duke Ellington’s “orchestra” finally got a long-standing job at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem.  Their fame grew, as did their “hot” swing sound.  His group performed and recorded during the Big Band Era.  After World War II, he started writing movie soundtracks, and continued performing and recording.  His most famous pieces are It Don’t Mean a Thing (if it Ain’t Got That Swing), In a Sentimental Mood, Solitude, Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady, and the performance of Take the A Train, which was written by another composer, but became his band’s theme.   Duke Ellington died in 1974 of cancer.  He remains one of America’s most accomplished and famous jazz musicians.  


    Map of Washington, D.C.  



    The Music of Duke Ellington