Duke was taken under the wings of Oliver Doc Perry and Louis Brown, who taught Duke how to read music and helped improve his overall piano playing skills. Duke found piano playing jobs at clubs and cafes throughout the Washington area. Three months shy of graduation, Duke dropped out of school and began his professional music career.
In late 1917, Duke formed his first group: The Duke’s Serenaders. Between 1918 and 1919, Duke made three significant steps towards independence. First, he moved out of his parents’ home and into a home he bought for himself. Second, Duke became his own booking agent for his band. By doing so, Ellington’s band was able to play throughout the Washington area and into Virginia for private society balls and embassy parties. Finally, Duke married Edna Thompson and on March 11, 1919, Mercer Kennedy Ellington was born.
In 1923, Duke left the security that Washington offered him and moved to New York. Through the power of radio, listeners throughout New York had heard of Duke Ellington, making him quite a popular musician. It was also in that year that Duke made his first recording. Ellington and his renamed band, The Washingtonians, established themselves during the prohibition era by playing at places like the Exclusive Club, Connie’s Inn, the Hollywood Club (Club Kentucky), Ciro’s, the Plantation Club, and most importantly the Cotton Club. Thanks to the rise in radio receivers and the industry itself, Duke’s band was broadcast across the nation live on From the Cotton Club. The band’s music, along with their popularity, spread rapidly.
In 1928, Ellington and Irving Mills signed an agreement in which Mills produced and published Ellington’s music. Recording companies like Brunswick, Columbia, and Victor came calling. Duke’s band became the most sought-after band in the United States and even throughout the world.
Some of Ellington’s greatest works include Rockin’ in Rhythm, Satin Doll, New Orleans, A Drum is a Women, Take the ‘A’ Train, Happy-Go-Lucky Local, The Mooche, and Crescendo in Blue.
Duke Ellington and his band went on to play everywhere from New York to New Delhi, Chicago to Cairo, and Los Angeles to London. Ellington and his band played with such greats as Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Louis Armstrong. They entertained everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to President Nixon. Before passing away in 1974, Duke Ellington wrote and recorded hundreds of musical compositions, all of which will continue to have a lasting effect upon people worldwide for a long time to come.
The Jazz legend, Ellington become the first black American to be prominently featured on a U.S. coin in circulation with the release of a quarter honoring the District of Columbia.
U.S. Mint and D.C. officials celebrated the release of the coin February 2009, during a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“Like many great Americans who succeed in what they love doing, Duke Ellington was equal parts talent, hard work, passion and perseverance, U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy said.
The coin with Ellington resting his elbow on a piano was officially released Jan. 26,2009 but officials took time February to hand out some of the “mint condition quarters to D.C. schoolchildren. Show less
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