On April 28, 1899 in Washington D.C., Daisy and James Ellington had a child. Although his given name was Edward Kennedy Ellington, he would become forever known to the world as Duke Ellington.
At the early age of seven, Duke had his first piano lessons, but they did not leave a lasting impression. Rather, as most young boys, Duke developed a strong interest in baseball. In fact Duke's first job came selling peanuts at Washington Senator's baseball games. As his initial performing "act", it was in front of the rowdy fans that Duke learned to get over his stage fright.
Years later, long after the piano lessons ended, Duke demonstrated an artistic flare, and attended Armstrong manual Training School to study commercial art. At about the same time he al so developed a fascination for music, seeking out and listening to ragtime pianists in Washington, and during the summers, in Philadelphia. While vacationing in Asbury Park, Duke heard of a hot pianist named Harvey Brooks. At the end of the vacation Duke sought Harvey out for some basic instruction. Returning home, Duke yearned to play, and dedicated himself to the task. Thus Duke's music career was born.
In 1913, he wrote his first composition, "Soda Foundation Rag." Under the wings of Oliver "Doc" Perry and Lois Brown, Duke learned to read music, and improved his piano playing skills. Duke found piano playing jobs at clubs and cafes throughout Washington. Three months short of graduation, Duke dropped out of school and began his professional career. In late 1917, Duke formed his first group: The Duke's Serenaders. Between 1918 and 1919, Duke moved into a home of his own, he became his own booking agent for his band (getting gigs at society balls and embassy parties), and he married Edna Thompson, resulting in the birth of his child Mercer on March 11, 1919.
In 1923, Duke left Washington and moved to New York. Through the power of radio, Duke gained many audiences, making him quite a popular musician. In the same year, Duke made his first recording. Ellington, and the renamed Washingtonians, established themselves during the prohibition era playing at the Exclusive Club, Connie's Inn, the Hollywood Club, Ciro's and most importantly the Cotton Club. The thing that really put Ellington's band over the top was becoming the house band at the Cotton Club after King Oliver unwisely turned down the job. Radio broadcasts of "From the Cotton Club" made Ellington famous across America and also gave him the financial security a top notch band that he could write music specifically for. Musicians then tended to stay with the band for longer periods of time.
In 1924 the Washingtonians recorded there first album ("Choo Choo" and "Rainy Nights"). The band hit the big time in 1927. In 1931 Ellington's band left the Cotton Club and toured the US and Europe. Duke who had recorded jazz's first two-sided six minute song in 1929 with his version of "The Original Dixieland Jazz Bands" began to push the limits of 78 rpm records and compose longer works. Unlike most of their contemporaries, The Ellignton Orchestra was able to make the change from the Hot Jazz of the 1920s to the Swing music of the 1930s. The song "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," even came to define the era. This ability to adapt and grow with the times kept the Ellington Orchestra as a major force in Jazz until Duke's death from cancer in 1974.
This Biography from the page by Steve Burke and edited and reformatted by James Clark