Happy Birthday, Duke Ellington!
Nobody beats the Duke. This is a truth that's still recognized even almost a century after he first broke into the jazz scene. The legendary Duke Ellington would've turned 116 today (April 29).
Ellington was born in Washington, D.C., and wrote his first composition in 1914 ("Soda Fountain Rag"). He was working various jobs to support his music career and that work ethic paid off as Ellington and his band became a recognizable act, playing for both African-Americans and whites during a segregated era.
However, his legend doesn't come from his hometown. Ellington is one of the most well-known artists to come from the Harlem Renaissance era of the '20s. The Duke performed at various nightclubs with his 10-piece band, and his creative use of his crew made him one of the genre's most distinctive performers.
At that point, no one ever did the type of arrangements he was doing. However, his jazz standards would come after the Renaissance: "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," "In a Sentimental Mood" (which he also recorded with the inimitable John Coltrane) and "Satin Doll."
Ellington continued to perform and compose until his death in 1975. His legacy was well established before he won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1999, and wrote over a thousand compositions.
Watch Duke Ellington Perform "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)"
See 10 Music Milestones From Great Black Artists