Ellington, Duke (Edward Kennedy Ellington), 1899–1974, American jazz musician and composer, b. Washington, D.C. Ellington made his first professional appearance as a jazz pianist in 1916. By 1918 he had formed a band, and after appearances in nightclubs in Harlem he became one of the most famous figures in American jazz. Ellington's orchestra played compositions and arrangements, some by hime alone, many by or in collaboration with Billy Strayhorn, and others written by Ellington and other members of his band (but often not credited to them). He achieved a fine unity of style, based in blues, but elegant and tonal, and made many innovations in the jazz idiom. Many instrumental virtuosos worked closely with Ellington for long periods of time. Among his best-known short works are
Mood Indigo, Solitude, and Sophisticated Lady. He also wrote jazz works of complex orchestration and ambitious scope for concert presentation, notably Creole Rhapsody (1932), Black, Brown and Beige (1943), Liberian Suite (1947), Harlem (1951), and Night Creatures (1955), and composed religious music, including three sacred concerts (1965, 1968, and 1973). Ellington made many tours of Europe, appeared in numerous jazz festivals and several films, and made hundreds of recordings. In 1969 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
See his memoir, Music Is My Mistress (1973); M. Tucker, ed., The Duke Ellington Reader (1993); M. Ellington (his son) and S. Dance, Duke Ellington in Person (1978); biographies by B. Ulanov (1946, repr. 1976), J. L. Collier (1989), M. Tucker (1991), J. E. Hass (1993), A. H. Lawrence (2001), and T. Teachout (2013); S. Dance, The World of Duke Ellington (1970); H. G. Cohen, Duke Ellington's America (2010).
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