Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as Duke Ellington or The Duke of Jazz, was an American artist with a career spanning more than 50 years, dedicated to composition and masterful piano playing. 

Originally from Washington D. C., he was the leader of a Big Band of great prestige at the time. His contributions to the world of jazz are recognized all over the world, for which he has received 12 Grammy Awards and his compositions are part of the Hall of Fame. 


Duke Ellington was born in Washington D. C. on April 29, 1899. His parents, James Edward Ellington and Daisy Ellington, were pianists by profession and instilled in him from an early age a love for music and for the instrument that, despite doubts in the first years of his life, he was passionate about. 

In the professional field

His first piano lessons began at the age of 7, but it was not until the age of 14 when, inspired by the musicians in a billiard room, he began to take lessons seriously and to develop professionally. He began composing at the age of 15, when he wrote the tune Soda Fountain Rag by ear. 

In 1917 he formed his first group, The Duke's Serenaders. By 1927 he managed to record with Adelaide Hall one of the most famous compositions of his career: Creole Love Call. 

Between 1933 and 1934 he expanded his horizons to European lands and received excellent reviews from the public and connoisseurs of the genre. This, evidently, was reflected in his work, as he began to compose musical pieces of greater length and musical depth.  

With this international boom, he began his first tour, avoiding the conflicts of segregation by traveling in private cars, facilities provided by agent Irving Mills.

By the 1940s, hits such as Take the "A" Train emerged. After the economic ravages of World War II, which forced many Big Bands to disintegrate due to the lack of performances due to the high cost of hiring them for the club owners, Ellington was able to tour the European continent, specifically Western Europe. It was in 1950 with a total of 74 performances. 

In this decade his career stagnated a bit, since his style was considered archaic and boring, but towards the end of the era he managed to resurface and acquire some recording stability with Columbia Records and venturing into the world of films, composing melodies for soundtracks. 

In 1965 he received a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for Music, but was not awarded. That same year he performed the first of his so-called Sacred Concerts, receiving mixed reviews. In 1968 and 1973 the second and third concerts were performed respectively. 

In 1969 Duke Ellington was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Nixon and on March 20, 1974 he performed his last complete concert in the city of Illinois. 

The Duke of Jazz died of lung cancer on May 24, 1974 at the age of 75. His remains rest in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York. 

In 1999, after his death, he received a special Pulitzer Prize in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, recognizing his talent and contribution to the music industry. 

In the sentimental and personal field

In spite of being a man of restrained personality, Duke Ellington had a very well known sentimental life. In 1918 he married his school sweetheart Edna Thompson and a year later had his only son Mercer Kennedy Ellington, who followed in his father's footsteps in the music industry and took over the band after his death.  

At the end of the 1920s, Duke separated from his wife and joined Mildred Dixon, who became his partner for several years and took on the responsibility of raising his son. 

In 1938 he separated again to couple with Beatrice Ellis, a worker at the famous Cotton Club, a relationship that with comings and goings was maintained, even parallel to another sentimental relationship started in the 60's. 


Her first musical influences came from her own family, because her parents were pianists, and over the years, as a teenager, her passion for the instrument was awakened thanks to musicians such as Eubie Blake, Clarence Bowser, Doc Perry, Caroline Thornton, Louis Brown, Lester Dishman, Joe Rochester, Gertie Wells, Turner Layton, Sticky Mack, Blind Johnny, Phil Wurd, Cliff Jackson, Luckey Roberts, Harvey Brooks, among others. 

He was also inspired by jazz piano stars of the 1920s such as James P. Johnson and Luckey Roberts.


During his career Duke Ellington made many collaborations. The trumpeter Ray Nance was one of his most influential band members and contributors. For his part, in the decade of the 50' stands out the recording made with Ella Fitzgerald: <Duke Ellington Songbook>.

Towards the 60's he recorded with Count Basie's band and made recordings with John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, among others. 

On the other hand, another of his most important collaborations took place towards the end of his career, in 1967, when he recorded with the star of the moment Frank Sinatra an album entitled: <Francis A. & Edward K.>.


Among the most famous albums of the musician Duke Ellington we highlight: 

Liberian Suite (1948)

Masterpieces by Ellington (1951)

The Duke Plays Ellington (1953) 

Ellington Uptown (1953)

Ellington '55 (1955)

Ellington at Newport (1956)

A Drum Is a Woman (1956)

Duke Ellington Presents... (1956)

Historically Speaking (1956)

Ellington Indigos (1958)

Duke Ellington at the Bal Masque (1958)

Newport 1958 (1958)

The Cosmic Scene: Duke Ellington’s Spacemen (1958)

Side by Side (1959)

Back to Back: Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges Play the Blues (1959)

Jazz Party (1959)

Festival Session (1959)

Live at the Blue Note (1959)

Piano in the Background (1960)

Blues in Orbit (1960)

First Time! The Count Meets the Duke (1961)

The Great Summit (1961)

Piano in the Foreground (1961)

Paris Blues (feat. Louis Armstrong) (1961)

Midnight in Paris (1962)

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (1963)

My People (1963)

Money Jungle (1963)

Afro-Bossa (1963)

Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (1963)

Duke Ellington Plays Mary Poppins (1964)

Concert in the Virgin Islands (1965)

Duke Ellington's Concert of Sacred Music (1966)

The Popular Duke Ellington (1967)

Ella & Duke at the Cote D'Azur (1967)

North of the Border in Canada (1969)

New Orleans Suite (1970)

70th Birthday Concert (1970)

The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971)

Togo Brava Suite (1971)

Latin American Suite (1972)

This One's for Blanton! (1972)

The Great Paris Concert (1973)

Yale Concert (1973)

Eastbourne Performance (1975)

The Ellington Suites (1976)

Up in Duke's Workshop (1976)

The Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1946 (1977)

Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940 Live (1978)

Unknown Session (1979)

An Intimate Piano Session (2017)


Although many of Duke Ellington's songs are recognized around the world, even years after his death, 4 of his songs are recognized as his most famous:

The the a`Train

In A Sentimental Mood

My Litlle Brown Book

I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good

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