Biography of Edward Kennedy Ellington

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Duke Ellington, named Edward Kennedy Ellington at birth, was born on April 29, 1899, in Washington D.C. to James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. Both of Ellington’s parents were talented, musical individuals. Edward Kennedy was later nicknamed Duke by his childhood friend, Edgar McEntire and this name has stuck with him throughout his life and career. Duke Ellington was one of Jazz and Big Band’s most influential icons. He was known for famous recordings such as “Sophisticated Lady”, "Take the A Train," "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got that Swing," and "Satin Doll," Duke Ellington started taking piano lessons at age seven and became more serious about his piano lessons after hearing a pianist who worked at Frank Holiday’s poolroom. He was fourteen and had started sneaking into the poolroom. After listening to the poolroom’s pianist, something was ignited within and he fell in love with the piano. Ellington was known for his ability to choose members for his band who possessed very unusual talents while playing their instruments. These talents included Bubber Miley, who used a plunger to make the "wa-wa" sound, and Joe Nanton, who was known for his trombone "growl." It was for this quality to find such unusual players and his ingenious ability to compose beautiful music that lead to Ellington’s huge success. Duke Ellington composed over 1,000 compositions right up until the day he died, May 24, 1974. Although Ellington was known as a huge figure in Jazz, his music spanned beyond the Jazz genre; it stretched into blues, gospel, popular, classical and film scores. Through his efforts and achievements, he has made Jazz more accepted as an art form and genre. Ellington had received 12 Grammy awards from 1959 to 2000...

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...and Carmen McRae and dedicated to Duke Ellington. Miles Davis created "He Loved Him Madly" as a tribute to Ellington one month after his death. Stevie Wonder wrote the song "Sir Duke" as a tribute to Ellington in 1976. A song by Judy Collins called “Sir Duke” was written in 1975 honoring and describing his funeral. Ellington appeared publicly up until a couple of months before he died from lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974. He was 75 year old. It is recorded that his last words were, "Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered." At his funeral, over 12,000 people attended which was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion by stating, "It's a very sad day. A genius has passed." Her words resonate in the hearts of many; for, through his efforts and contributions to the world, genius is truly evident.

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