You Are At: AllSands Home > Music > Bio > Duke Ellington biography
The composer, bandleader, and pianist known as Duke Ellington was born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C. He was a child prodigy at the piano, first playing when he was 7 years old. Throughout his career, he crafted more than 1,000 orchestrations and composed music for musical comedies, ballet, opera, and motion pictures. He is considered to be one of the founders of big-band jazz, and his flexibility as a bandleader and composer kept his music popular through the transition into the Swing Era. Ellington led his orchestra for over 50 years, winning eleven Grammy Awards and 19 honorary doctorate degrees. Many believe the secret to his success as both a composer and a bandleader was the fact that he composed with his orchestra members in mind. Rather than pitting different groups of instruments against each other, as was the norm in those days, he used instruments form different sections to create unique sounds. Ellington wrote his biography, MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS, a year before he died of cancer in 1974.

CHRONOLOGY

1899 He was born in Washington, D.C. (April 29)

1906 He began playing piano.

1915 He wrote his first composition, "Soda Fountain Rag."

1916 He began to play professionally.

1917 He devoted himself exclusively to jazz.

1922 He moved with Sonny Greer and Otto Hardwick to New York.

1923 He formed his first band.

1927 He began performing at the Cotton Club.; He composed "Black and Tan
Fantasy."

1929 He appeared in his first film, BLACK AND TAN.

1930 He composed "Mood Indigo."

1931 His band toured the United States for the first time.

1932 He composed "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

1939 He hired Billy Strayhorn who became his musical collaborator.

1941 He composed "Take the 'A' Train."

1942 He composed "Don't Get Around Much Any More."

1943 His orchestra performed for the first time at Carnegie Hall.

1951 He composed BLACK, BROWN, AND BEIGE and HARLEM SUITE.

1953 He recorded the album PIANO REFLECTIONS.

1969 He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the United States.

1973 He was awarded the Legion of Honor by France.; His autobiography, MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS, was published.

1974 He died of cancer in New York City. (May 24)

1988 The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. acquired his entire archive and made it available to the public.