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Black History Month: Duke Ellington

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When many people think about the significance of Black History Month, many leaders, innovators, and strong people come to mind. One of the most well-known, best of all time jazz musicians who embodies every aspect of jazz, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington changed and brought the world together with music.

Born on April 29, 1899, Ellington was a music prodigy. Many people knew he would be full of talent before he was even alive because both of his parents were musicians. He started playing and studying piano when he was seven years old. His nickname “Duke” was given to him because many thought that he was a complete gentleman.

 Ellington wrote his first piece–“Soda Fountain Rag.”–when he was 15 years old. After creating the song, Ellington realized his passion for ragtime,–music characterized by a syncopated melodic line and regularly accented accompaniment, evolved by black American musicians in the 1890s and played especially on the piano–and that let him to playing professionally at 17 years old according to Biography.com

When he was 21 years old, he began performing in nightclubs as the leader of a sextet. Ellington was very interested in musicians with unique jazz sounds, so that was his goal when he found people for the band. 

Ellington, whose career lasted for six decades, composed over thousands of songs. He was well-known because he created an ensemble sound that many hadn’t heard. 

The audiences of Ellington’s band were taken through a world of emotions when listening to them perform. He was loved and adored for his sense of musical drama. Ellington rose to the top in 1940 when he began releasing many strong songs. “Concerto for Cootie,” “Cotton Tail,” “Ko-Ko,” were all popular tunes that lead Ellington to the very top. According to Biography.com, he ended up winning 12 Grammy Awards from 1959-2000.

Many jazz bands have tried performing and imitating the music that Ellington composed, but the heart and soul that Ellington put into the music was a rarity. There will always be covers, but no one will do it exactly like he was able to.

On May 24, 1974, Ellington passed away from lung cancer and pneumonia. Even though, the embodiment of jazz is not here anymore, his legacy will always live on.

I personally chose to write about Ellington because I experience how incredible he was every other day. I play lead trombone in LPHS’s top jazz band, and I often listen, read, and observe music composed by Ellington. This is proof that the unique sound that he created throughout his life still carries on to younger generations. The way that he cared and worked endlessly on improving his skills motivates me and many other people. I think that without Ellington, jazz wouldn’t feel the same. It wouldn’t be as elegant, smooth, or beautiful like Ellington taught his young band to do. Jazz is changed forever because of this man, and I am honored to have the opportunity of observing the beauty that Ellington has created.

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