Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington
1899 - 1974
Duke Ellington's contributions are exactly what John Edward Hasse entitled his book about Ellington: Beyond
Category. Besides composing some of the greatest compositions of this century, he will also be remembered for
leading a big band for fifty years without interruption.
Born on April 29, 1899, Duke spent his first twenty-four years in Washington,
D.C. As a teenager his main musical interest was ragtime
piano, but he was hardly a virtuoso at this point. He managed to get a couple
paying jobs in Washington leading the Duke Ellington Serenaders. When he migrated
north to New York in 1923, he was leading a band called the Washingtonians.
In 1927, Ellington began leading the jazz orchestra at the Cotton Club, the premier Harlem nightspot (142nd and
Lenox). This group layed the roots for his later big bands and started showing the possibilites for Ellington's
(and later Billy Strayhorn's) intricate compositions.
Ellington made himself famous for his perpetually travelling big band. He composed aboard trains and planes and
recruited the best talent at each stop. The travelling big band was another possibility of migration for the most
talented southern musicians.