Duke was born on the twenty ninth day of April 1899 in Washington D.C (Crease, 2). He is the second child of James Edward and Daisy Ellington (Crease, 2). The Encyclopedia of World Biography introduces Duke Ellington as a black American Jazz music composer, a remarkable band leader of his first group, popularly known as “The Duke’s Serenaders”, was formed when Ellington was 18, and a great pianist. Initially, he never showed any interest in Music as he was interested in base ball and football like most of the young men of his time (Crease 2). However, he grew to become one of the most celebrated Jazz musicians. Ellington led his band his band of musicians for more than half a century, composed thousands of scores, and created one of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in all of Western music (Crease, 2). By the age of fourteen, Ellington had written his first two pieces, “Soda Fountain Rag” and “What You Gonna Do When the Bed Breaks Down?” (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2013).His family encouraged his interests in the fine arts, and he began studying piano at age seven. He became engrossed in studying art during his high-school years. Inspired by ragtime performers, he began to perform professionally at age 17. At the age of 19, Ellington married Edna Thompson, who had been his girlfriend since high school, and soon after their marriage, she gave birth to their only child, Mercer Kennedy Ellington (Robinson, 2013). In his early life, he engaged in a lot of music and art activities, until in the year i1932 when he moved to New York and became a band leader (Robinson 2013). Ellington first played in New York City in 1923. Later that year he moved there and, in Broadway nightclubs, led a sextet that grew in time into a 10-piece ensemble. After his long life of music career, Duke met his death when he was 75 years young, in Ney York on the twenty fourth day of May 1974 after suffering from lung cancer (Crease 1).His last words were, “Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered.” More than 12,000 people attended his funeral. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City (Ellington, 2013).
A brief History of Duke’s Family
Ellington grew up in a secure middle-class family in Washington, D.C. Duke Ellington was raised by two talented, musical parents in a middle-class neighborhood of Washington DC. In the family, the name surname “Ellington” was preserved from Dukes grandmother, therefore, Duke’s father was called Edward Ellington, and Duke himself is called Kennedy Ellington, and Duke’s own son was named Mercer Ellington and his grandson was Kennedy Ellington the second. This name is preserved in the family because it is very influential (Lawrence 1). Daisy, who is Duke’s mother, was born of James Kennedy, who was an illegitimate son of a farm master and a female slave. James Kennedy who fell in love with a fellow mixed blood slave moved to Virginia with his love after he was freed from slavery, and that is when Daisy Edward (Duke’s mother) was born (Lawrence 1). On the other hand, James Edward Ellington was born in 1879 in Carolina. They were a part of the black population who had moved to the North due to civil and world War 1. At the age of seventeen years, James Edward was employed as a coachman, driver and later became a caretaker and a general handy man (Crease 3). James Ellington and Daisy got married but lost their first child to a stillbirth. After that is when they got a second child, Duke Ellington (Lawrence 2). Duke’s other was also a singer and good pianist as well (Lawrence 4). Daisy Ellington was also a good pianist, though she never engaged into mass production like her son Duke. It is very likely that her prowess that must have inspired Duke to his profession. Duke was also inspired by his father’s words, for example, when Duke wrote a song titled “Gee, you make that hat look hotter,” which is a statement which his father used to say to women (Lawrence 4).
Teachers/instructors of Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington’s father was his first teacher. The father taught him how to present himself before people while he was a young boy. It is due to his noble hood and gentleness that he was named Duke by his friend. At the beginning of his music career, Duke was trained by a popular pianist by name, Harvey Brooks (Robinson 2013). Brooks showed young Ellington some tricks of piano playing trade, and Ellington was hooked. He resumed his study of the piano and wrote his first composition, “Soda Fountain Rag” at the age of fourteen. By the time he was seventeen years, Ellington was already playing the piano at various nightclubs in Washington, D.C, for example, the Cotton Night Club. Duke did not storm the Jazz music industry through his solo effort; however, he was guided by well known New York musicians like Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Fats Waller, from the year 1923 to 1927 (Robinson 2013).
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Educational institutions Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington went joined Armstrong Technical High School (). It is while in High School that he was given the name “Duke”. The name Duke came from Edgar McEntry, who is his school as well as his classmate of High School. This is because his mother used to dress him in dandified clothes and he also presented himself as a noble gentleman (Cohen 16). Robinson indicates that Duke Ellington dropped out of high school three months before his graduation in 1917 to pursue a career in music. At first, he booked and performed in bands in the Washington, D.C. In September 1923 the Washingtonians, which is a five-piece group of which he was a member, moved permanently to New York, where they gained a residency in the Times Square venue The Hollywood Club (Robinson, 2013).
Musical style of Duke Ellington
Ellington style of music is Jazz music. He is and will forever be considered as a major figure in the history of jazz music. The Encyclopedia of Biography indicates that his musical career as a Jazz master spanned more than half a century (Cohen 2010). It is during this time in which he composed thousands of songs for the stage, screen and contemporary songbook (Cohen 2010). His brilliance and effort enabled him to create one of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in Western music and continued to play what he called “American Music” (Cohen 2010). His major instrument in all his songs is his orchestra which added melody to his productions. His first song which is titled “Soda Fountain Rag” was inspired by the job he did, as he worked as a soda jerk (Cohen 2010). Duke composed this song while he was fifteen years old. Ellington’s productions were pleasant to other musicians because he had unique playing styles. For example, his partners such as Bubber Miley used a plunger to make the “wa-wa” sound in their songs, and Joe Nanton, who gave the world his trombone “growl.” Occcasionally, his ensemble merged the trumpeter Cootie Williams, cornetist Rex Stewart and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. Ellington made hundreds of recordings with his bands, appeared in films and on radio, and toured Europe on two occasions in the 1930s (Cohen 2010). Apart from Duke’s hard work, his style and sense of musical drama, is actually what made him stand out among all other Jazz musicians (Cohen 2010). He merged and blended musical melodies, rhythms and subtle sonic movements which in turn gave his audiences a new experience of Jazz, it was complex yet accessible type of jazz that was pleasant to most if not all ears of his listeners (Cohen 2010). This enabled him to win twelve Grammy Awards form 1959 up to the year 2000 (Cohen 2010). Out of the twelve awards, three of them were awarded to him even after his death. Duke Ellington also received seventeen honorary doctorates and numerous awards from foreign heads of state (Robinson 2013). This award is considered as the nation’ s highest civilian award an individual could receive, he also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom which was awarded to him by President Richard M. Nixon, who described him as America’s foremost composer (Robinson 2013).
Published works of Duke Ellington
Among all the literary and works of art that Duke Ellington did; only one was published. This is his Ellington’s autobiography, titled “Music Is My Mistress,” which was published in the year 1973 (Lawrence 1). In his own biography, he begins with a form of a fairy tale “Once upon a time, a beautiful woman marries a handsome gentleman and soon they are blessed with a bouncing baby boy” (Lawrence 2). In this context, the woman is his mother (Daisy Ellington) while the gentleman is his father (James Kennedy).
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Origin of Duke Ellington and how it impacted his type of Music
Duke Ellington is an African American who was born and lived in the United States of America. His parents experienced the era of racism against the (black) African Americans (Crease 6). He also went to Armstrong High School which was black segregated, and therefore, he is also a victim of racial segregation. This influenced his style and type of music, since most of his songs were written to evoke color, moods and other memories (Robinson 2013). Duke’s composition molded a rich a rich musical narrative from the sounds, color and textures of African American life (Crease ix). Therefore, due to his origin and background, his music sometimes took the form of pop or orchestra, but both of them fell under the umbrella of Jazz. He is therefore, considered among the originators of Jazz music in America (Crease 6). Jazz Music has a fusion of both African and American taste. According to Robinson, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra had no option but to change and adapt with the times and changing styles of jazz and popular music. It is noticed that he performed mostly for the white population, for example, in the Cotton night club which had only white individual. However, he used his music to persuade the club owners to allow African Americans too join the club (Robinson). Ellington always wished to steer clear of debates and commentary on matters of race relations, despite hardships that he and his orchestra of African Americans encountered travelling around the United States from the 1930s until the 1960s. He did not believe in categorizing people (Robinson 2013).