Duke Ellington is considered to be one of the greatest figures in the history of
American music. Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born in Washington D.C. on
April 29, 1899. His parents were James Edward and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. They raised Duke as an only child, until his sister, Ruth, was born when Duke was sixteen years old. Duke, even as a teenager, had a great talent for music. In the beginning of his musical life, Duke began to take a promising interest in a new type of music that would later be called jazz. Choosing to base his career on a new idea may not have been smart, but Duke did take this chance and in turn became one of the most famous musicians in America.
Duke's first job was at a government office. He was a clerk who received the minimum wage and was barely getting by. He would arrange dance bands for weddings and parties for extra money. His mother taught him how to play the piano. Sometimes he put this knowledge to use and played at a few of the dance parties and weddings. After Duke's first job, he became more interested in painting and the arts. For a few years he painted public posters. Duke then decided to put together his own band.
At this point in his life things started to change for the better for Duke, but not for long. In those days, this new music was just beginning to develop and would later be given the name of jazz. In that time it was considered to be low and vulgar because it was music that grew directly out of the Black culture. In those early years, segregation was at one of its all time worst points in history. I think that is why Duke Ellington was one of the most important individuals to the growth and development of jazz. During Duke's long career, the new music slowly spread out of bars and saloons, to dance and night clubs and then eventually onto the concert stage. In time, jazz became a universally recognized form of art and has been said that it is the only real form that has originated from the American soul. By the 1960's Duke traveled the globe so many times that he became known as the unofficial ambassador to the
United States. Duke's band had played in Russia, Japan, Latin America, the Far
East, the Middle East, and Africa. Duke, himself, was an elegant man. When the white people looked down on the black man and his music, Duke managed to brin...
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...6 that boomed with popularity as the demand for big bands playing this new swing music was in intense demand. Later on Duke hired a lyrical writer named Billy Strayhorn that led a premature death in 1967.
But when Strayhorn was with the band he wrote many compositions that often went into the band's book of music. Then in 1942 Duke hired one of the best tenor saxophonists ever and let him play the first tenor sax solo ever arranged by
In 1951 Saxophonist Johnny Hodges, trombonist Lawrence Brown, and Sonny Greer left the band together and formed their own band but then in
1955 Sonny Greer returned to the band and stayed with Duke until his death in
1970. And then by the 1950's the Ellington band was carrying on almost alone. By
1972 the times and styles of the world no longer fit the old time style of Duke' s band. The band was not known like it used to be and that could be the point in time I suppose you could say that the band broke up. Duke Ellington's career spanned the whole history of the birth of the music called jazz. And nowhere in that glorious history is there a man who had more love for music, more respect for his art, than the man they called the Duke.