Duke Ellington


Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899-1974)
Composer, musician, bandleader




The Kennedy Center
Marco Polo
This resource was created in March 2003 by ARTSEDGE. All rights reserved.
ARTSEDGE is a project of the Education Department of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,
and is a member of the MarcoPolo Partnership
Jump to the Ellington Media Launcher for music and movies featuring Duke.

Having made a name as a jazz musician in his hometown of Washington, D.C., in the 1920s, Edward "Duke" Kennedy Ellington headed for the big time—New York City. After a rocky start, he landed a gig at the Kentucky Club on Broadway. He played that venue with his orchestra for the next four years.

In 1927, Ellington's orchestra landed a job as the house band at the racially segregated Cotton Club. Ellington welcomed musicians with a distinct technique to his orchestra, and highlighted them in his compositions. His "Concerto for Cootie"—named to honor trumpet player Charles "Cootie" Williams—was the first jazz composition in the form of a concerto (a three-movement piece of music for one or more solo instruments and an orchestra). Ellington did not stop breaking musical conventions there; he also invented his own harmonic language.

As the country sank into the Great Depression in October 1929, many bandleaders had trouble making ends meet. Not Ellington; he flourished. The 1930s found him caught up in a musical and social whirlwind: In addition to touring, playing Broadway shows, appearing in movies like Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life, and broadcasting on radio, Duke Ellington shattered some longstanding racial barriers by performing in theaters and hotels that had once been barred to blacks. That path-breaking style typified his lifelong career.


back to the top


Ellington played at the Lafayette Theatre in 1923.
Sculptor Selma Burke created his bust.
He recorded "That Lindy Hop" by composer Eubie Blake.
A huge fan of dancer Florence Mills, he wrote "Black Beauty" for her.
He appears with dancer Earl Tucker in the film Symphony in Black.
At the Cotton Club, he made about 200 recordings.
He took part in the Savoy Ballroom's Battle of the Bands.
Drummer Chick Webb influenced his music.
reset to the top
menu 1
menu 2
menu 3
menu 4
menu 5
menu 6