Duke Ellington

Genre: Jazz

Back in 1899 Edward Kennedy Ellington was born. He was to become one of the backbones in the history of jazz. His father was James William Ellington and his mothers' name was Daisy Kennedy Ellington. It wasn't a wealthy family but they lived comfortably as middle-class citizens. His nickname "Duke" was given to him by a boyhood friend, the name stuck and he grew up to be known as Duke Ellington.

As a kid Duke was very interested in drawing and his parents predicted he would go to college majoring in art. The fact that he had a great musical talent was also discovered at an early age, and his mother made him take piano lessons against his will. After just a couple of months his parents realized that they were wasting both time and money, as he didn't show much interest in playing the piano. A few years later, when Duke had reached the age of 13, his musical interest began to grow. He also got interested in girls and partying, and realized that if he could play the piano, he would gain popularity and be invited to parties. He started to play the piano again.

Duke was too proud to put himself under the authority of a teacher. Instead he started to visit a local club named Frank Holliday's Poolroom. He would sit down and listen to the piano players that entertained there, and eventually he was invited to their homes and they would teach him things about the piano. Two of the pianists who helped Duke were Oliver "Doc" Perry and Henry Grant, who also taught music at the high school Duke attended. He joined in the high school band and he started to write his own compositions.

Ellington's popularity came when he played at a Senior's dance at his high school. He played what is known to be his first composition, "What You Gonna Do When the Bed Breaks Down?" The crowd loved his performance and when he was finished they started to yell for more. However, Duke didn't have anything else to play, so instead he switched up the version and style of the same composition. The song became a hit, which began the popularity and fame of Duke Ellington.

Duke's very first gig was filling in for another piano player at Frank Holliday's poolroom. The gig was paying $100.00 but Duke was to give the other piano player $90.00 and keep $10.00 for himself. He got a good taste of entertaining from playing the show, and started to look for other gigs as well.

Duke fell in love with a girl at his high school named Edna Thompson. In 1918, they had a baby, Mercer Ellington. Soon Duke became a well known musician in his area and in 1923 moved to New York. This is where he developed the style that would quickly bring him worldwide success and recognition. His orchestra, that he would lead for over 50 years, was formed. This orchestra became world famous and he wrote literally thousands of works for it - everything from ballads to up tempo swing tunes.

One of his co-workers once said: ""Ellington plays the piano, but his real instrument is his band". His band would tour across the world, and many other great musicians regulary guested his band, like Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gilespie and Louis Armstrong to name a few.

Duke Ellington died on May 24, 1974. The jazz world suffered a major loss.

Biography by: Nwaado
Submitted On : 12.25.00

Works Cited and Consulted

Duke Ellington