Feature Articles - Duke Ellington
by Dylan Nelson

This article is by Dylan Nelson, an 11 year old 5th grader at Beattie Elementary. He has been playing piano since he was four and loves jazz. This article was written for a school project on famous people and we thought you might enjoy it too.

Duke Ellington
By Dylan Nelson

Edward Kennedy Ellington's life started when he was born on April 29th, 1899, in Washington D.C. Edward was spoiled by the women in his family while he was a child. His mother, Daisy, was very protective of him, and did not want to lose her only child.

Edward loved baseball, and when his mother heard that he had been hit by a bat, she started him on piano lessons. When he was six years old, with Mrs. Clinkscales as his teacher, piano was the last thing on his mind-baseball was what he wanted. SO soon he quit his piano for childhood fun.

At 15 he first heard "Ragtime" piano. He started up on piano again because of the new beat and all the attention he got with his new talent. Duke's grades dropped as he spent more and more time on piano and less on schoolwork. As friend nicknamed Edward "Duke." This name fit Duke because of his proud and elegant manner.

His sister was born when Duke was 16. Now his mother stopped pampering Duke and gave them both equal attention. His family lived in first class style. His father James Edward, usually known as JE, worked as a butler in the White House when Theodore Roosevelt was [resident. JE and his family dined on fine china because the presidential family would give staff sets of dinnerware if pieces were broken or missing.

His professional piano life started, in 1916, when Duke was 17 with his first performance at a high school dance. In the 1920s, he was one of the first people to compose and play jazz.

He started writing songs and was hired first at the Kentucky Club, then at the Cotton Club in 1927. The cotton Club, famous for its live music was located in the middle of black Harlem, New York, and was for whites only. Eventually a few richer African Americans were allowed to enter. Once, during his years at the Cotton Club, Al Capone threatened to kidnap Duke and the famous dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robertson, but Chicago got too dangerous and Capone left.

In 1943he became the first African American to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He premiered his first long piece, "Black, Brown, and Beige."

He composed many songs but was best known as the performer of "Take the A Train," a song written by his long-time collaborator Billy Strayhorn.

In 1956 Duke had a breakthrough at the Newport Jazz Festival. At the end of the festival while people were leaving, he was playing a song he had recently composed and people started pouring back in. Because of this he ended up on the cover of Time magazine and was recognized as the best musician in his time. Whenever someone asked Duke how old he was, he'd insists that he was born at the Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1958 he returned to England and performed a special group of songs for Queen Elizabeth II. A year later he won three Grammys for songs he composed for Anatomy of a Murder.

On Ellington's 70th birthday, President Richard Nixon awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian medal.

On May 24th, 1974 Duke died of cancer. But his music has left an impression on the world forever.

by Dylan Nelson, 11 yrs old. 2002

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