Home > Categories > Art and Entertainment > Musicians > Duke Ellington's Biography

Duke Ellington's Biography

Browse biogs A-Z

Pianist, composer and band-leader, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born in Washington DC on April 29 1899.

His father was a butler, and by the time Ellington was eight he was already nicknamed "Duke" due to his refined manners.

In 1918 Duke Ellington gathered round him a number of musicians who would be at the core of his band; and in the same year he married Edna Thompson. His son, Mercer, was born a year later.

In 1923 Duke Ellington settled in New York and established a band called 'Washingtonians', working out of The Kentucky Club.

A few years later Ellington signed a contract at the famous Cotton Club, where the likes of Stravinsky and Gershwin came especially to hear him.

1930 was a big year for Duke Ellington. He took part in the film "Ring Dem Bells" and recorded one of his greatest tracks "Mood Indigo". He also left his wife and married Mildred Mixon, a dancer at The Cotton Club.

The thirties saw Duke Ellington's fame and popularity increase with songs like "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Aint Got that Swing", "Sophisticated Lady" and "Solitude".

In 1941 "Take the A Train" became the band's signature tune. The forties saw Ellington break new ground in jazz by writing extended works and suites.

Ellington was one of the many great jazzmen to pass through post-war Paris, and in 1947 the great French all-rounder Boris Vian published L'ecume des jours (translated in English as "Froth on the Daydream" or "Mood Indigo"), which features a mechanical cocktail maker that mixes and swills in response to the music of Duke Ellington, and features a character named 'Chloe' which is also a wonderful track by Ellington when he teamed up with Jimmy Blanton.

In 1951 Duke Ellington presented "Harlem Suite", commissioned by Toscanini, at the Metropolitan Opera House. But as members started to leave the band so too did the public start to transfer their affections to the likes of Count Basie.

Still, Duke Ellington continued with his prodigious output, but on May 24 1974 he died from lung cancer.


Back to Top

Latest User CommentsAdd your comment
Add your comment
To ensure you are a real person and not a computer please enter the following characters shown below: