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Duke Ellington (752 words)

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington By the time of his passing, he was considered amongst the world’s
greatest composers and musicians. The French government honored him with their
highest award, the Legion of Honor, while the government of the United States
bestowed upon him 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 Ellington was born into the world on April
28, 1899 in Washington, D.C. Duke’s parents Daisy Kennedy Ellington and James
Edward Ellington served as ideal role models for young Duke and taught him
everything from proper table manners to an understanding of the emotional power
of music. Duke’s first piano lessons came around the age of seven or eight and
appeared to not have that much lasting effect upon him. It seemed as if young
Duke was more inclined to baseball at a young age. 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 first get over
his stage fright. At the age of fourteen, Duke began sneaking into Frank
Holliday’s poolroom. His experiences from the poolroom taught him to appreciate
the value in mixing with a wide range of people. As Duke’s piano lessons faded
into the past, Duke began to show a flare for the artistic. Duke attended
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 hot pianist named Harvey Brooks. At the end of his vacation Duke
sought Harvey out in Philadelphia where Harvey showed Duke some pianistic tricks
and shortcuts. Duke later recounted that, “When I got home I had a real
yearning to play. I hadn’t been able to get off the ground before, but after
hearing him I said to myself, ‘Man you’re going to have to do it.'” Thus
the music career of Duke Ellington was born. Duke was taken under the wings of
Oliver “Doc” Perry and Louis Brown who taught Duke how to read music
and helped improve his overall piano playing skills. Duke found piano playing
jobs at clubs and cafes throughout the Washington area. Three months shy of
graduation, Duke dropped out of school and began his professional music career.

In late 1917, Duke formed his first group: The Duke’s Serenaders. Between 1918
and 1919, Duke made three significant 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 so, Ellington’s band
was able to play throughout 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. In 1923, Duke left the
security that Washington offered him and moved to New York. Through the power of
radio, listeners throughout New York had heard of Duke Ellington, making him
quite a popular musician. It is also in that year that Duke made 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, and Victor came calling. Duke’s band became
the most sought after band in the United States and even throughout the world.

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Some of Ellington’s greatest works include, 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 on to play
everywhere from New York to New Deli, Chicago to Cairo, and Los Angeles to
London. Ellington and his band played with such greats as Miles Davis, Cab
Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Louis Armstrong.

They entertained everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to President Nixon. Before
passing away in 1974, Duke Ellington wrote and recorded hundreds of musical
compositions, all of which continue to have a lasting effect upon people
worldwide for a long time to come.


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