Facts about Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington facts will never go out of fashion. His music, guest appearances, or simply his face may be what you know about Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington is one the most influential jazz musicians to ever walk the earth. 

Many other musicians have performed his songs and he has inspired many jazz artists to this day. He is so well-known for his contributions to jazz music, that there is even a festival named after himself: the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. Also known as the DC Jazz Festival.

Below are some facts about Duke Ellington you will love to learn if you are interested in one of the pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance. You may have seen a cartoon featuring him, heard him perform ‘Take the A’ Train’ live, or just curious about his inspiring life. There’s plenty to learn here.

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Facts about Duke Ellington

  • His parents were pianists. Born in 1899 and raised by his parents, James Edward Ellington (and Daisy Ellington), the famous pianist grew up with two piano-playing parents. Daisy Ellington, Duke’s mother, performed middle-class music from the late 19th century, known as parlor music. His father performed operatic arias.
  • The nickname was given to Duke by Edward Kennedy Ellington. His real name is Edward Kennedy Ellington. However, the famed nickname comes from his impeccable manners and ability to assume that he is a nobleman. According to legend, his mother taught him how to be respectful and surrounded him with dignified women. His childhood friends were the ones who started calling him “Duke.”

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  • His nickname was not Duke. However, his eating habits earned him another name. Ellington was not a very good observer of his physical appearance. He had moments when he couldn’t control his hunger pangs. His sidemen started calling him “Dumpy” because he was slender and fit.
  • Before he was famous, he used to sell peanuts at games. This sport was more important to him than the piano when he was in high school. He did, however, get his first-ever job selling peanuts at Washington Senators games.
  • He was always looking for new ways to keep his music unique. One of the qualities that makes a musician great is their ability to innovate and stay unique. This eventually led to their unique style. This was a very important aspect for the Duke. The Duke began with piano playing, moving into his famous stride style and including many unusual elements such as dissonant notes.

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  • Duke Ellington was also a bandleader and went through many eras of jazz from the 1920s to the 1970s. His jazz band was always at the top of the music scene, providing new and innovative music for the fans of the genre, regardless of its era.
  • Duke performed at The White House for his 70th Birthday. Richard Nixon hosted the event. What better way to celebrate your Birthday than to be invited to the White House? It was held during the Nixon administration on April 29, 1969. Although he is not the most well-known president, it is still an honor for jazz musicians.
    Another interesting fact about Duke is that he wasn’t the first person from his family to enter the White House. His father, James Edward Ellington, worked there as a butler during the Warren G. Harding administration in the 1920s.

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  • Duke Ellington did not record his first song. Although Ellington’s discography is extensive, Ellington never recorded or released his first song. The song in question, “Soda Fountain Rag,” was written by Ellington in 1914 as a teenager. He wrote this piece while he worked at the Poodle Dog Cafe.
    However, the song was sometimes performed, and footage shows him performing the “Soda Fountain Rag.”
  • New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg declared Duke Ellington Day on April 29, 2009. The Duke Ellington Day that we celebrate today was established on the anniversary of Ellington’s Birthday in 2009. On the occasion of Ellington’s 110th Birthday, Michael Bloomberg, New York City mayor, declared it. It took nearly 35 years for Ellington to create such a holiday. However, it is still amazing that we have this day to remember him.
  • He was a Freemason. It shouldn’t be surprising for an artist and musician of such high caliber to join a Masonic lodge. It was the Prince Hall Freemasonry in North America, which Prince Hall established back in 1821. Although he didn’t talk about it, he did mention it in his biography.
  • A high school in Washington D.C. named after Ellington is dedicated to arts education. The Duke Ellington School of the Arts was founded in 1974, when Ellington died. As the name suggests, this Washington D.C. school is dedicated to arts education. It was built in the late 19th-century and used to be known as Western High School before 1974. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
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