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Duke Ellington Life and Legacy Term Paper

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Updated: May 25th, 2019


Jazz music is an example of popular hybrid music. This is because it consists of both African and European musical cultures. Jazz music was first developed in 20th century. It was most popular among the black community of southern America. Duke Ellington was known widely to be one of the greatest composer and musician of jazz music in the 20th century. He is the jazz musician discussed in this paper.

Duke Ellington life history

Duke Ellington was born in April 1899. His father was called James Edward Ellington (Allmusic par. 2). Young Ellington was lucky since his father was employed at the white house as a butler. This had a great impact on his life since he grew up comfortably. Despite the fact that he lived among the middle class community, Ellington had access to musical instruments at a tender age of seven.

He engaged himself in piano classes despite racism being very high during that time. The music classes became too sweet for young Ellington. This made him to drop out of school while he was still in junior class. He wanted to pursue his music career.

Notable to mention is that, Ellington started music composition at his teen age. The first stage performance for Ellington was in 1917. He performed with a band based in Washington DC. Nevertheless, things did not progress smoothly for the band. They decided to relocate to New York permanently.

It was in New York where the band recorded their first album in 1924. Duke Ellington was among them. Ellington stunning role in the band earned him the top leadership position.

The band grew bigger and popular with time. In the year 1927, Ellington and his band moved again and resided in one of the most famous club in New York. This club was called cotton club. Their relocation to this club made the group more popular in the entire country. For three years the band resided at the cotton club under Ellington leadership (Allmusic par. 4).

By the end of 1928, the band had produced a hit song called Diga Diga Doo (Allmusic par. 4). This song elevated the band to top position nationally since they became more famous. In addition to that, the band was frequently advertized in radio countrywide and this made them even more popular.

In spite of his job at the cotton club, Ellington and his band still participated in several orchestral stage shows. In the year 1929, the band appeared in the California film show. Their fame doubled when they won and became the best band. This progressive success of Ellington accelerated more when he released a top five hit instrumental type of music. This song was called mood indigo (Allmusic par. 5).

Ellington left the cotton club in the year 1931 and started musical tour around the country. Immediately Ellington left the cotton club, he composed a second version of previous music he had developed. He called it, the Lime house blues (Allmusic par. 6). This song elevated Ellington to a senior music position nationally.

This is because the song was ranked top ten hit music nationally. Ellington also invited other musicians and featured them in his band. He also featured Ivie Anderson who was a violinist in his hit song called it do not mean a thing (Allmusic par. 5). In the year 1934, Ellington advanced forward and was featured in another film famously known as the murder at the vicinities (Allmusic par. 6).

In the beginning of spring in 1934, he composed another hit song called cocktail for two (Allmusic par. 6). This was followed by another outstanding personal composition called reminiscing in tempo (Allmusic par. 6).

Generally, Duke Ellington had numerous music albums he personally composed. In his jazz music, he extensively incorporated instrumental styles. The styles he used include diminuendo and crescendo in blues (Allmusic par. 6). Nevertheless, Ellington progressive music momentum was slowed down in 1942.

This was the time United States joined the world war two (Allmusic par. 9). Based on the situation, the American federation of musician banned music production in America. Contrary to the ban, Duke Ellington did not stop since he firmly continued with his music composition.

In his entire career, Ellington was able to sign contracts with a music production company called Columbia records (Allmusic par. 15). It was during this time when he was able to release the best selling album in his entire music career. After his death in 1974, the band never died. His son Mercer Ellington took charge and continued heading the band until his own death in 1996 (Allmusic par. 15).

Ellington historical achievement

Duke Ellington became the greatest and most popular jazz music composer of the 20th Century. He was also one of the greatest composers who developed and pasteurized musical tunes. Notable to mention is that, Ellington is always remembered for the thousand of songs he personally composed.

Ellington also managed to create music composition for specific individual member in his orchestra band. As a professional pianist, he was able to analyze and master all techniques involved in fingering slowed piano rolls. This is why he was known as the greatest pianist of the 20th century.

Historically, there has never been any other composer in the 20th century greater than Duke Ellington. In his jazz music, Ellington stretched into genres like gospel, popular, blues and classical music (Andrea 8). He is also remembered for his outstanding stage music composition.

To the present day, Ellington instrumental composition is being used by other artists. They use his styles and genre in developing modern standard music. Ellington is also remembered to have contributed to the official birth of the swing musical era (Allmusic par. 6). Duke Ellington elevated and transformed general public perception over jazz music. This is because he incorporated all traditional genres into jazz music (Andrea 8).

Ellington is a key figure to be remembered for his tireless effort in popularizing jazz music. This is evident especially toward the end of swing era. It was during this time when jazz music was fast veering away. More and more fans were moving away from jazz (popular music) towards bebop music (Allmusic par. 10). Ellington never gave up. He fought hard to keep his band floating. Even though the band lost most top recognition nationally, Ellington never gave up.

Ellington legacy

Ellington was a humble and patient man who loved peace. He was 66 years old when the pulitzer prize judges denied him an outstanding lifetime achievement award (Andrea 16). All he said was that he was too young to receive such an award. Everyone knew that he was the best candidate for the prize.

Duke Ellington is up to date recognized as the cornerstone of America. In addition to his great composition, he was also a leader who influenced and inspired many of his band members to produce their own music. Duke Ellington used his band to showcase the music talents among young people (Allmusic par. 1).

He also used the band like a laboratory where he shaped his music composition. Following his death in 1974, many musicians globally still revisit his work (“Duke Ellington” par. 1). This show how influential his composition was to the public. In America, most high schools band still play Ellington music.

Numerous memorials sites have been built up all in his name. Some of these sites were set up in his home town in Washington DC. The Duke Ellington School of arts is one of the memorable sites built and named in his honor (Andrea 17). The institution admits students with interest in arts and music.

In the year 2009, the government of United States launched a new coin featuring Duke Ellington (“Duke Ellington” par. 11). This made him break the world record of being the first African American to ever appear in a circulating US currency (“Duke Ellington” par. 11).


In summary, it is clear that Duke Ellington was indeed a great musician and composer of 20th century. He wrote a maximum of 1500 composition and more than 10000 sound recording. In his entire music life, he participated in over 600 stage performances. In his musical career, Duke Ellington was very successful and he left behind a brilliant legacy that will endure for ages (“Duke Ellington” par. 1).

Works Cited

Allmusic 2012. “Duke Ellington” Web. <>.

Andrea, Davis Pinkey. Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra. Hyperion Books for Children, 1998, New York, NY. Web.

“Duke Ellington.” The New York Times 29 April. 1999. Web.

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