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Duke Ellington

The Duke

By the time of his passing, Duke Ellington was considered amongst the world’s greatest composers and musicians. The French government honored him with their highest award, the Legion of Honor, while the government of the United States bestowed upon him the highest civil honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He played for the royalty and for the common people and by the end of his fifty-year career, he had played over 20,000 performances worldwide. He was the Duke.

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born into the world on April 28, 1899 in Washington, D.C. Duke’s parents Daisy Kennedy Ellington and James Edward Ellington served as ideal role models for young Duke and taught him everything from proper table manners to an understanding of the emotional power of music. He was called “Duke” because he was something of a dandy, with a love of fancy clothes and an elegant style. He retained those traits throughout his life. The secret of the Ellington style was that it was no mere style at all but simply the manifestation of what he was made of within. Duke’s first piano lessons came around the age of seven or eight and appeared to not have that much lasting effect upon him. It seemed as if young Duke was more inclined to baseball at a young age. Duke got his first job selling peanuts at Washington Senator’s baseball games. This was the first time Duke was placed as a "performer" for a crowd and had to first get over his stage fright. At the age of fourteen, Duke began sneaking into Frank Holliday’s poolroom. His experiences from the poolroom taught him to appreciate the value in mixing with a wide range of people. As Duke’s piano lessons faded into the past, Duke began to show a flare for the artistic. Duke attended Armstrong Manual Training School to study commercial art instead of an academically-oriented school. Duke began to seek out and listen to ragtime pianists in Washington and during the summers, where he and his mother vacationed in Philadelphia or Atlantic City. While vacationing in Asbury Park, Duke heard of a hot pianist named Harvey Brooks. At the end of his vacation Duke sought Harvey out in Philadelphia where Harvey showed Duke some pianistic tricks and shortcuts. Duke later recounted that, "When I got home I had a real yearning to play. I...

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