Ellington, Duke [Edward Kennedy ]
- Marcello Piras
[Edward Kennedy ]
(b Washington, DC, April 29, 1899; d New York, NY, May 24, 1974). American pianist, composer, lyricist, and bandleader. A leading figure in jazz and one of America’s greatest composers.
Ellington’s parents belonged to Washington’s black bourgeoisie. James Edward Ellington, a butler who had temporary jobs at the White House, played operatic arias on the piano by ear, Daisy Kennedy played parlor pieces from the sheet; composers Will Marion Cook and will(iam) henry bennett Vodery were family acquaintances. Ellington, nicknamed “Duke” by childhood friends for his elegant demeanor, took piano lessons at seven from Marietta Clinkscales, Mrs. Cook’s accompanist, but quickly grew bored and, some time later, enrolled at a commercial art institute. As a teenager, he attended dance parties and pool rooms, where ragtime awakened his interest in piano playing; by 1914 he composed by ear “The Soda Fountain Rag.” After being fired from various bands for not reading music, he dropped art school, studied with Oliver “Doc” Perry (piano, theory) and Henry Grant (harmony), and became a music professional, while still working as a sign painter....