The Duke of Orchestra: 10 Mind Blowing Facts About Duke Ellington

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Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was a renowned composer, pianist, jazz enthusiast, and band leader of jazz orchestras. He gained international acclaim through gigs and appearances in the Cotton Club of Harlem. Famous all over the world for the musical genius that he was, the Duke was a master composer, pianist, jazz musician, and occasional actor.

His family descended from slaves, his parents the last in the line. They made sure he got the best things in life, and had him learn the piano at age 7. He studied music and art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He received countless groundbreaking awards, including a great achievement back in 1959 as he was awarded the Springarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was also awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon. And in 1999, he was awarded a special posthumous honor by the Pulitzer Award Board. Here are more amazing facts that’ll get you crooning:

Fact 1: Duke Ellington loved to produce music that showcased each of his individual player’s talents. On one occasion, he wrote “Jeep’s Blues” for his saxophonist Johnny Hodges, while he produced “Concerto for Cootie” for his trumpeter Cootie Williams. It later became the tune of Bob Russell’s “Do Nothing Till You Hear Me”.

Fact 2: He wrote roughly more than a thousand or so compositions, one Ellington super fan claiming he produced two thousand. His work is the largest and most extensive in the history of recorded jazz history, his legacy living on to this day.

Fact 3: Duke’s grandmother was a former American slave. His mother, Daisy Ellington, and father, James Edward Ellington, were both pianists and supporters of racial pride.

Fact 4: His mother was a wonderful lady, and at the ripe age of seven, had him start taking piano lessons from a woman named Marietta Clinkscales. Daisy had her son surrounded by dignified women to reinforce his manners, having him learn how to live gallantly and elegantly. Duke Ellington’s childhood friends took note of that, often being witness to his charm, grace, and good tempter, as that of a nobleman. And so, the nickname “Duke” was born.

Fact 5: The Duke’s first composition was entitled “Soda Fountain Rag”, also known as the “Poodle Dog Rag”. He produced this piece by ear, since at the time he wasn’t capable of reading or writing music notes.

Fact 6: Back when he was still learning the piano, he missed more lessons than he attended, feeling like the piano wasn’t for him. It was when he snuck into Frank Sinatra’s poolroom at age 14, that his passion for the talent ignited. He was slowly on the way to becoming the best that Jazz had ever seen.

Fact 7: His first play date was took place at the True Reformer’s Hall, where he took home a total 75 cents.

Fact 8: Duke Ellington starred in some films, too! Back in the day, he starred in the 1929 film Black and Tan, a nineteen minute long all African-American short in which he played the hero aptly named “Duke”. He also starred in the Amos ‘n’ Andy film Check and Double Check, which was released back in 1930.

Fact 9: Popular Australian composer Percy Grainger was an early admirer and supporter of the Duke. He was quoted to have said: “The three greatest composers who ever lived are Bach, Delius and Duke Ellington. Unfortunately Bach is dead, Delius is very ill but we are happy to have with us today The Duke”.

Fact 10: Duke Ellington lived to be 50 before passing away in New York City on May 24, 1974, from lung cancer. He produced music until his last days. He received 12 Grammy awards, 9 of them when he was still alive.

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