62. The Harlem Renaissance Series: Duke Ellington

Posted: December 27, 2009 in African American, Black entertainment, Black Pride, Culture
Tags: , , , , ,

The Harlem Renaissance cultural movement started between 1920 and 1930, and was spearheaded from the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, hence the name. It was also known by various other names like, the New Negro movement and the New Negro Renaissance. It marked the beginning of the African American literature along with its music, theater, art and politics.  Today’s post is another plug for the world-class musicians of the movement.  I bring to you none other than Big Band himself, Mr. Duke Ellington.

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899 – 1974)
Ellington was an African American music composer, pianist, a band leader and the 20th century’s best-known artist.  He brought many great artists together and formed one of the most well-known orchestral units in the history of jazz musicians.  He recorded for many famous American record companies and also acted in several films.

Duke earned 13 Grammy awards from 1959 to 2000 for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band, etc.  He was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame awards for several performances including, Mood Indigo (1931), It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing – 1932), Cocktails for Two (1934), etc.  

Ellington was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966. He was later awarded several other prizes, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, an Honorary PhD from the Berklee College of Music in 1971, and the Legion of Honor by France in 1973, the highest civilian honors in each country.  He died of lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974, a month after his 75th birthday, and was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York City.  At his funeral attended by over 12,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion, “It’s a very sad day. A genius has passed.” Mercer Ellington picked up the reins of the orchestra immediately after Duke’s death. Before Ellington died, his last words were, “Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered.”


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