Duke Ellington Fact File Biography: Lifespan: 1899 – 1974 *** Full Name: Duke Ellington was also known as Edward Kennedy Ellington *** Date of Birth (Birthday): He was born on April 29th, 1899 *** Place of Birth: Duke Ellington was born in Washington D.C. *** Family background: His father was James Edward Ellington *** Early life and childhood: Duke Ellington grew up and spent the majority of his childhood in Washington D.C. *** Education: Duke Ellington began his piano lessons with Henry Lee Grant and Oliver 'Doc' Perry *** Duke Ellington died on May 24, 1974 ***
Duke Ellington Fact 1: Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29th, 1899 in Washington D.C. in the United States.
Duke Ellington Fact 2: He was a famous American bandleader of orchestras, pianist and composer who played a major role in the history of jazz music.
Duke Ellington Fact 3: The name 'Duke' is a nickname that originated from his childhood his friend, Edgar McEntree, who gave him the name on account on his charming manners and smart attire. Duke Ellington's mother associated with elegant ladies so from a young age, Duke had a pleasant personality and excellent manners.
Duke Ellington Fact 4: His parents were called James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington. They were both talented pianists who introduced Duke to the piano at the age of seven. He was sent for piano lessons with Marietta Clinkscalesw, however, he had a passion for playing basketball at the time, not for playing piano. During his younger years, he missed many of his lessons with his music teacher as the interest just wasn't there.
Duke Ellington Fact 5: He attended the Armstrong Technical High School in Washington D.C., and he worked at Washington Senators baseball games selling peanuts. Later, he attended Armstrong Manual Training School where he studied commercial art.
Duke Ellington Fact 6: His real love of the piano began at the age of fourteen when he sneaked into Frank Holiday's Poolroom to listen to the pianists playing the fabulous instrument which he would become very fond of, this is when his real love for the piano began and he started taking his lessons more seriously.
Duke Ellington Fact 7: He wrote his first composition in 1914, it was titled 'Soda Fountain Rag'. At the time, he was unable to read or write music properly so he had to compose the piece by ear. His composition was also known as the 'Poodle Dog Café’ and Duke Ellington would play it in various styles without his listeners realizing that it was the same piece of music.
Duke Ellington Fact 8: He undertook private piano lessons by Henry Lee Grant at Dunbar High School in Washington D.C. A well known band leader called Oliver Perry (also known as Doc) helped to teach Duke Ellington how to read music and develop his talent.
Duke Ellington Fact 9: He met many professional pianists who inspired him greatly and gave him advice. He rejected an art scholarship in 1916 as he wanted to pursue a career in music. He began playing gigs in local clubs in Washington D.C.
Duke Ellington Fact 10: Duke Ellington was introduced to Sonny Greer in 1919, he was a professional drummer and he encouraged Duke to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician. At the time, he worked as a freelance sign-painter which meant that he came into contact with many potential clients, particularly the ones who were buying a sign for a party or special occasion. It wasn't long before he had established a successful career as a professional pianist.
Duke Ellington Fact 11: He established his first group in 1917 called 'The Duke's Serenaders', their first perfomance was at the True Reformer's Hall. Members of the group included Otto Hardwick, Arthur Whetsol, Elmer Snowden and Sonny Greer. The Duke's Serenaders were very popular with white audiences who enjoyed their African-American performances.
Duke Ellington Fact 12: He married his childhood sweetheart, Edna Thompson, on July 2, 1918. She gave birth to their only child, Mercer Kennedy Ellington, on March 11, 1919. Mercer Kennedy Ellington became a professional musician like his father.
Duke Ellington Fact 13: He formed his own band in 1923, it was known as 'The Duke Ellington Orchestra' and it was led by Duke Ellington for over 50 years, until his death in 1974. The orchestra is still active today.
Duke Ellington Fact 14: Duke Ellington earned many awards and honors during his long career as a musician including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, the Legion of Honor by France, and a posthumous Special Pulitzer Prize which was awarded for his lifetime contributions to music and culture. A United States Commemorative stamp was issued on April 29, 1986 with an image of Duke Ellington on it.
Duke Ellington Fact 15: He also enjoyed a career in acting and appeared in various short films during the late 1920s to 1930s. The first film he starred in was called 'Black and Tan'.
Duke Ellington Fact 16: Duke Ellington earned his first Grammy Award in 1959 for the Best Sound Track Album for Anatomy of a Murder. During his music career, he achieved twelve Grammy Awards in total. His final one was earned in 1999 for his Historical Album, the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition.Duke Ellington Fact 17: He composed many pieces of music during his lifetime, many well known pieces which hold historical significance including It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing), Cocktails for Two, Ellington at Newport, Far East Suite, Black, Brown and Beige, Black and Tan Fantasy, Moon Indigo and Take the A Train.
Duke Ellington Fact 18: His orchestra claimed fame throughout the world. After gaining a national profile through performances at Harlem's Cotton Club, the group went on to tour Europe. Duke Ellington's final performance took place on March 20, 1974 at Northern Illinois University.
Duke Ellington Fact 19: In 1976, Stevie Wonder wrote a song in honor of Duke Ellington, the legendary jazz musician. The title of the song is 'Sir Duke' and the lyrics refer to him as 'the king of all Sir Duke'.
Duke Ellington Fact 20: Duke Ellington was diagnosed with lung cancer and died on May 24, 1974, at the age of 75 years, following a severe bout of pneumonia. Over 12,000 people attended his memorial service which was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Duke Ellington was laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx in New York City.
Influence and Legacy: Duke Ellington was a famous jazz musician who led his own orchestra for more than 50 years. He is considered one of the most influential jazz players in the history of music.
Short Facts about Duke Ellington for Kids
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