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Robert O'Meally on Duke Ellington
Robert O'Meally, Professor of English at Columbia University, discusses Duke Ellington.
Then
Now

Duke Ellington was a composer, musician, and bandleader who changed the sound of American music and took its new sound around the world.

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

The Duke Ellington Memorial towers 25 feet over Duke Ellington Circle. It is located at the northeast corner of Central Park at 110th Street and 5th Avenue.

Current view of Duke Ellington Memorial

Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899–1974), known as Duke Ellington, changed the sound of popular music in America and around the world. He began by playing the piano at age 7. In 1917 he formed his first band, called The Duke’s Serenaders. They played in their hometown of Washington D. C. until Ellington left the comforts of home for the creative energy and opportunity of Harlem. Once there, Ellington’s band played frequent gigs at the famous Cotton Club. It was a whites only club, but fans could tune in to hear live broadcasts of the shows. The Duke became famous and his band played on throughout the Great Depression.

Over a span of 50 years Ellington wrote music for 3-minute records, for movies, the theater, orchestras, and the church. He played and led a band that toured the world, giving 20,000 performances and changing the sound of music wherever they went. Ellington received 13 Grammy Awards and 16 university degrees. He was awarded the President’s Gold Medal by President Johnson, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Nixon. The country of France gave him their highest award, the Legion of Honor. But the highest praise was from his fellow musicians. The great Miles Davis said, “I think all the musicians in jazz should get together on one certain day and get down on their knees to thank Duke.”

Duke Ellington died in New York in 1974. On the day of the funeral a black man, who had come down from Harlem, said, "I'm just here to bear witness. A man passed through and he was a giant."

This entry contributed by Curriculum Concepts International

Related Media


Video
Kellie Jones, Columbia University Professor of Art History and Archeology, discusses renowned composer, musician, and bandleader, Duke Ellington.
Robert O'Meally, Professor of English at Columbia University, discusses Duke Ellington.

Images
The Duke Ellington Memorial towers 25 feet over Duke Ellington Circle. It is located at the northeast corner of Central Park at 110th Street and 5th Avenue.
Duke Ellington was a composer, musician, and bandleader who changed the sound of American music and took its new sound around the world.
This portrait of Duke Ellington comes from the Alexander Gumby Collection in Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.



Produced by CCNMTL, Chase, Teachers College, and CCI