Duke Ellington

A great American composer, Ellington's big band music became wildly popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
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Duke Ellington

Widely regarded as the greatest American composer of them all, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington came up with an ingenious solution to the problem of getting his band through towns whose hotels and restaurants denied service to African-Americans. Ellington simply equipped his private train with sleeping and dining facilities and held parties on the train.

On the March

To learn more about “Duke” Ellington, visit and check out The Blanton-Webster Band (RCA Records).

Ellington's contribution to American music was so immense that it could only be contained within two extraordinary and long-lasting careers. The first began with his big band's rise to prominence at Harlem's Cotton Club in the late twenties, and continued through the swing era, when Ellington's music was consistently at the top of the national charts. The second career came around in the mid-1950s, years after the nation's appetite for swing had diminished, and Ellington launched a comeback with a legendary appearance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. (The band's extraordinary set very nearly unleashed a riot from appreciative fans). Throughout both careers, Ellington balanced his unerring gifts for melody and appealing rhythms with his desire to experiment musically. A superb pianist, he composed many of his most timeless pieces in collaboration with the gifted Billy Strayhorn.

In 1965, at the age of 66, Ellington was considered for, but inexplicably lost, the Pulitzer Prize for music. The never-fazed Ellington took the news in typical, jaunty form: “Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be too famous too young.”

Excerpted from

The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History
Melba J. Duncan
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History © 2003 by Melba J. Duncan. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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