The Life and Career of Duke Ellington

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Duke Ellington was a famous American pianist, bandleader, and a composer. He formed the big-band jazz and also composed a number of songs over his 50 years occupation (Ruhlmann 1). Ellington was born in Washington, D.C in 1899 29th of April. His career in the history of jazz music spanned over a half-century. During this time, Duke composed thousands of tracks for the contemporary anthology, stage, and screen. Before his death in 1974, he had created a number of unique collaborative sounds in the western music. Ellington was brought up in a middle-class family, his parents had a musical talent as well.

Duke got married to Edna Thompson whom he dated since they were in high school when he was 19 years. The couple had a child called Mercer Kennedy Ellington. However, when Duke was 75 years, he succumbed to pneumonia and lung cancer on 24th may, 1974 (Ruhlmann 3). Before his death, he said that music was how he lived, why he lived and how he would be remembered. Thousands of people attended his burial in New York City (Strother 8).

Education life

Ellington started studying piano when he was seven years old and this made him earn the nickname "Duke" since he was perceived to be a gentleman. Despite the fact that Ellington was not a genius, his classes lasted for only a few months. After that, he did not study music formally again. Nevertheless, until he became famous, he did not show special interest in classical music. However, his mentors had provided him with varied education.  Henry Grant who was a producer and an active musician on the native black scene taught Ellington on the basic fundamentals and harmony. Additionally, Ellington's musical education shadowed a nontraditional path (Cohen 5). "Soda Fountain Rag" was his first composition at the age of 15. However, Ellington continued to pursue his passion and started it professionally when he was 17 years old.

Career life

Throughout Duke's career, he expanded and honored the trend of his musical forebears, he appreciated black history and culture. Ellington could not be compared with the youngsters who memorized the exact words of the poetry and songs recorded in the African history, instead of western civilization in the history books (Cohen 3). Ellington became prominent in the 1940s after he composed a variety of masterpieces (Strother 6) such as "Ko-Ko", "Concerto for Cootie" and "Cotton Tail".  Ellington's career has changed lives of many people especially the way he delivered his music with integrity.

He brought the society together despite their time and space limits. His music met everyone's means, whether old or young, modest or wealthy, whoever or wherever they are (Cohen 7). Ellington gave many people an opportunity to discover themselves and their capabilities. Some people remember him for a particular performance; for others films and recordings that Ellington collected; and others it could be through evaluation about his life and music. It does not matter the point of access used by different people, what matters is that it means a lot to be touched by Duke's talent. In the 20th century, Ellington's compositions must have helped jazz in the American society to enter both institutional and academic realms, which was the target before 21st century began. This is because jazz was one of the most influential practitioners in the United State, especially to the young generation.

 Duke’s Songs

some of the most common tracks of Duke included "Solitude", "Prelude to a kiss" (1938), "It doesn't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing", "Satin Doll" and "sophisticated lady" (1932). These songs have remained popular until today. An imposing female vocalist namely Ivie Anderson sang many of Duke's hits since she belonged to his band. I think she was one of Duke's favorite vocalist. I listened to a couple of his compositions and "Take the A Train" was probably the most prominent jazz tune. It was composed and recorded by Billy Strayhorn purposely for the commercial held on 15th of February in 1941 (Ellington). This composition has a lot of views, likes and positive commentary on YouTube. Most of his music delivers a message of personal emotions and historical facts which was hardly recognized by his audiences.

Despite the fact that the jazz was composed of 60's people are commenting till today, this clearly shows that the life of Duke Ellington will never be forgotten. For instance, two years ago one of the audience's comments (Ellington) that "It doesn't get any better than this swinging' 60's Jazz gem, from a Jazz music legend, Duke Ellington, a.k.a. "Sir Duke", may he R.I.P. always". This illustrates that Duke's jazz music has been reflected in both early and modern societies. I think the reason Duke was unique was that his rhythms and melodies blended perfectly, he also had a sense of musical drama and elusive sonic movements that gave his audiences a new experience.

Moreover, Duke's exclusive compositional style attributed to his career. He had integrated improvised elements such as the standard style, concerto, and the jungle style, which expressed the growl sounds of the trombone and trumpet. Generally speaking, Ellington was a genuine composer considering how he incorporated some of the elements. If I was to compare him with other jazz composers then he would be my favorite due to his unique sense of rhythms. By comparison, Ellington had the most appealing music than any other American literature iconic figures such as Mark Twain and Herman Melville (Porter 91). He was rated first for converting the actual vitality and texture of the American life and I believe that he was a great musician

According to my understanding, some of the early forms of Black American music such as ragtime and blues and some popular white music influenced Ellington's style especially the rhythm and form. His ability to blend white (Euro-American) and black (African) music captured my attention and this made me listen to more of his compositions.

Finally, considering the songs I listened to, I can conclude by saying that I could easily connect with Duke's jazz music. I did not realize that I got attached to the music until I found myself listening to a variety of them and memorized some of them. The songs stimulated my mind enormously, I was relieved mentally and emotionally because of its unique melodies and American innovation.


Ellington was one of the most influential jazz figures and considered as the best African-American personality in the 20th century. He influenced thousands of people, those at home and worldwide. Duke Ellington's legacy will continue to live because it is being recognized today and it will be recognized even in the future.


Strother, Eric S. "The Development of Duke Ellington's Compositional Style: A Comparative Analysis of Three Selected Works." (2001).

Porter, Lewis. "The Early Years of Edward Kennedy" Duke" Ellington, 1899-1927." (1990): 89-92.

Cohen, Harvey G. "Duke Ellington's America." University of Chicago Press (2010).

Ellington, Duke. "Take The A train." By Billy Strayhorn. 1962. .

Ruhlmann, William. "Artist Biography by William Ruhlmann." (2018). .

October 05, 2023


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