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A biography of duke ellington an american musician

This marked a characteristic attitude of the black middle-class of turn-of-the-century Washington, D. Social and political progress, according to the mindset of this community, would not occur through political agitation and protest, but by high achievement and radiating a sense of respectability.

In our house … while I was growing up, people of all colors were there. More whites than coloreds. My father was like that. I remember when I was about five years old in Washington I was standing down in the front garden with my cousin and the people passing our house were various colors.

And she pointed out to me that these people had different colors. I had never heard anybody talk about color. So I ran upstairs to my father with whom I had all my, quote, intellectual conversations, and I thought that I ought to impart this information to him and he was reading the newspaper and when I told him what my cousin Elizabeth said he put the paper down and said two words: So I went downstairs and I never mentioned color again [giggles].

This attitude of recognizing the best in a biography of duke ellington an american musician category, rather than categorizing people and accomplishments by color, represented the Ellington ethos. After flirtations with sports and art, the teenaged Ellington gravitated toward the field of music, which, at the time he was born, represented one of the few areas in the country in which blacks earned money and respect at the highest level, competing and collaborating with whites at the top of a profession.

The dignity and pride they sought to instill in the Washington black community, especially its young people, avoided challenging and confronting the social and political realities of the time, but instead sought to rise above them.

  1. As his son recalled, J.
  2. More whites than coloreds. The two worked well together, continuing in the tradition that Ellington had built.
  3. The broken, eighth-note melodies and arrhythms of bebop had little impact on him, though on occasion he recorded with musicians who were not band members—not only with other swing-era luminaries such as Louis Armstrong , Ella Fitzgerald , and Coleman Hawkins but also with later bop musicians John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. He gave American music its own sound for the first time.
  4. Social and political progress, according to the mindset of this community, would not occur through political agitation and protest, but by high achievement and radiating a sense of respectability.

From his upbringing, from the mentors and cultural figures who came before him, Ellington adopted a method of assertive yet nonconfrontational activism in dealing with matters of race, prejudice, and black achievement.

Even before the Civil War, Washington represented a better place than usual for blacks to live.

  • Moore found that this strategy of instilling race pride and opportunity paid dividends;
  • Among the younger generations, Ellington was both a symbol of the traditional modes of jazz music and the finest example of how to transcend those modes;
  • From 1943's Black, Brown and Beige to 1972's The Uwis Suite, Duke used the suite format to give his jazz songs a far more empowering meaning, resonance and purpose:

Laws against blacks were rarely enforced, the majority of blacks were free by the 1830s, and the first black public school opened in 1807, followed by many more in ensuing decades, probably more in relation to population than anywhere else in the United States. It boasted the largest black urban community in the nation—31 percent of its inhabitants. Until the Woodrow Wilson administration ushered in an era of increased segregation in 1913, the federal government treated and hired local blacks with relative equality.

A few blacks were born to limited wealth, but most were in small businesses or professions as teachers, barbers, lawyers, dentists, college-trained clergy, and, thanks to the strong federal-government presence, civil servants and social workers. For whites, such occupations represented middle-class status, but in the black community these were viewed as elite occupations.

Duke Ellington

Three national African American papers ran society columns reporting on the activities of the elite black Washingtonians, and some black observers criticized them for being overly obsessed with status and material objects, a view Langston Hughes endorsed when he stayed in Washington for a period in the mid-1920s.

Jacqueline Moore traced the development of the black middle class in Washington, D. While the group in both periods placed emphasis on manners, etiquette, and dress, the middle-class blacks of the earlier period stressed assimilation into white society by cultivating an image of respectability grounded in highbrow culture.

  • He was most certainly one of a kind that maintained a llifestyle with universal appeal which transcended countless boundaries;
  • Moore found that this strategy of instilling race pride and opportunity paid dividends;
  • His career spanned more than half a century—most of the documented history of jazz;
  • I had never heard anybody talk about color;
  • So I ran upstairs to my father with whom I had all my, quote, intellectual conversations, and I thought that I ought to impart this information to him and he was reading the newspaper and when I told him what my cousin Elizabeth said he put the paper down and said two words;
  • For this and many other reasons, his soloists often stayed with him for extended periods.

A black opera company was founded in the city in the 1870s, and the intellectual American Negro Academy developed in 1897, amid other cultural activities such as literary organizations, often classical music programs, plays, poetry readings, and lecture series for blacks.

By the turn of the century, however, whites had still not accepted such attempts at bridging the racial divide and generally viewed all blacks as inferior, no matter their level of refinement or the fact that some of them lived in better circumstances than many whites.

Assimilation no longer represented their top priority. Black churches expanded the notion to include speaking out against discrimination and racial violence. Black businessmen also played a role in promoting black pride in Washington, goaded in part by their realization that, because of Jim Crow discrimination, they needed to rely on their black clientele almost exclusively. The Shaw neighborhood, where Ellington principally grew up, was the main black business district.

  • Wiggins recalled another afternoon at the Ellington family home;
  • The dignity and pride they sought to instill in the Washington black community, especially its young people, avoided challenging and confronting the social and political realities of the time, but instead sought to rise above them;
  • The expertise of this ensemble allowed Ellington to break away from the conventions of band-section scoring;
  • Ellington was very close to his mother, and, as Mark Tucker pointed out, the songs she played were recalled and referenced by him throughout his life, especially in his more wistful and elegiac compositional moods;
  • With these exceptional musicians, who remained with him throughout the 1930s, Ellington made hundreds of recordings, appeared in films and on radio, and toured Europe in 1933 and 1939;
  • Ellington first played in New York City in 1923.

They studied great African civilizations, and one school assigned African folk tales. Moore found that this strategy of instilling race pride and opportunity paid dividends: Nobody but the proud Negroes of Washington, who felt that the kind of white kids we would be thrown in with were not good enough.

While sometimes snobbish, the culture and environment of black Washington forwarded the impression of the personal worth and innate equality of blacks without taking a dangerously assertive stance. Racial pride and support flourished first in the Ellington home. This was not uncommon; D. The families were usually very close, which helped them take advantage of opportunities.

Parents taught their children to stand up for themselves without showing disrespect. Such descriptions fit the Ellingtons snugly. At an early age, his mother Daisy repeatedly told Ellington: Edward, you are blessed! I never had it so good as when I was a kid. My mother brought me up in the palm of her hand, she really spoiled me.

When they got through spoiling me, A biography of duke ellington an american musician was really spoiled. But they did lead a secure existence as a black middle-class family, though a biography of duke ellington an american musician income would not have qualified them for such status in the white community.

Do something that identifies you as an individual. As his son recalled, J. He worked in various capacities in some of the finer white homes as waiter, coachman, driver, and butler. Since his family could not afford to provide him with a formal education, his main education came from a long-term assignment as a butler and a houseman with Dr. Cuthbert, a white man who allowed him to partake of a large personal library that J. She was the oldest girl in a large family of Kennedys, a very musical family in which most of her siblings played some sort of instrument.

Ruth Ellington recalled the prim nature of her childhood home, even years after Ellington had left Washington: I think radio had just been invented. It was quite a shock. Ellington initially resisted being a musician as a young man.

Ellington, is Edward ready? He ended up refusing it, but his talents in this area enlarged his bankroll during his early days as a musician in Washington.

Ellington said the accolade came from a schoolmate of mine, Edgar McEntry. He was a boyhood pal of mine, we used to travel around a lot together. And through high school. And he was a pretty elegant cat, you know, he was a swinger of his day, actually. He was very well dressed, you know.

But then I had to keep up with him, so I began to tag on little things of, you know, dressing and so on. So, I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship that I should have a title.

About Duke Ellington

And so with that, he called me Duke. And it sort of stayed there.

Duke Ellington

In any case, family members in later years recalled that Ellington, as a high school student, predicted his massive success and later ducal status. Wiggins recalled another afternoon at the Ellington family home: As the day he lived and died … He foresaw his a biography of duke ellington an american musician in many, many years.

The race pride among Washington blacks also involved a sense of class stratification. The poolroom attracted a mix of people who Ellington claimed educated him as much as his schoolteachers did: Alternating impressions of aloofness and snobbery as well as warmth and inclusiveness were seen by fans and by those close to Ellington, probably influenced by the contrasting worlds he inhabited in Washington, D.

But for Jacobs, this pride and bearing had mostly positive manifestations: He knew who he was. He had great self-esteem … And you could put him with a President, or you could put him with a porter, and he would have the same warmth and ability to communicate.

In 1911, Grant directed the choir in a Howard University—sponsored production entitled The Evolution of the Negro in Picture, Song and Story, which celebrated black history. Originally produced in 1913 by the groundbreaking black scholar and spokesperson W. DuBois, and featuring J. Rosamond Johnson as musical director, the show depicted ten thousand years of black history. A Tone Parallel of the American Negro. This tradition emanated from the long-standing practice of African griots, whose main function consisted of passing on to the young generation meticulously memorized songs and poetry that chronicled the history of African peoples, instead of the history books used by Western civilizations.

Ellington honored and expanded this tendency of his musical forebears, penning many programmatic tributes to black cultural figures and historical settings throughout his career. But all the time I was asking questions. That was the end of my lessons there because I found out what I wanted to know [laughs]. And this adjusted my perspective as to how I should pursue the next phase of my learning. It was a matter of learning what I wanted to learn, rather than learning what was in the order of the book that is normally taught in the normal music curriculum.

While Ellington learned fundamentals of music theory and composition, he also steeped himself in the techniques of nonschooled jazz and blues musicians, whose rawness and passion he admired and sought to duplicate. This dichotomy, a trademark of the Ellington sound, represented a hallmark of the Washington musical environment: And it was this great exchange, and there I was right in the middle, and my embryo, sort of, was nurtured in this.

In church, Ellington learned white as well as black hymns and songs. Ellington was very close to his mother, and, as Mark Tucker pointed out, the songs she played were recalled and referenced by him throughout his life, especially in his more wistful and elegiac compositional moods.

When Ellington first began forming bands in the late 1910s, his repertoire included songs associated with both black and white culture, and he played for both black and white audiences, almost always segregated. Bands at these dates usually featured ragtime-style pianists as Ellington was at the time who performed dance music of Tin Pan Alley popular songs, along with the newly popular black jazz sounds. Like other so-called East Coast commercial bands, they played the range of popular music from cotillion dance tunes, country tunes, music hall hits, popular novelties, tangos, and waltzes to ragtime and blues.

Ellington pointed out in his autobiography that this multigenre training proved profitable when his band the Washingtonians had their first long engagement in New York City during the mid-1920s. The mixing of black music and white, especially evident in Washington, D. Before the rise of the mass media and popular music sales charts in the 1920s and 1930s, blues and country artists and recordings could sometimes not be accurately classified by race.

Nor could many other American genres. Ragtime existed as a danceable amalgam of European and African musical traditions. New Orleans black brass bands combined European brass with African rhythmic patterns.