Jazz April Birthday #29: Duke Ellington

Apr 29, 2013

One of the most influential figures in American music and one of the twentieth century's best known African-American personalities, pianist, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington was, to use one of his signature phrases, "beyond category."

Duke led his band from 1923 to 1974, using the entire orchestra as his instrument, and often writing parts specifically to showcase certain players in the group.  He is credited with over 1,000 compositions, received 12 Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and a Grammy Trustees Award, had 9 compositions dating from 1928 through 1967 inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, received numerous "hall of fame" awards from other organizations, and was honored with both a commemorative postage stamp and a commemorative US coin.  In 1999, a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation was "bestowed posthumously on Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, commemorating the centennial year of his birth, in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture."

"My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people".  --Duke Ellington