Carnegie Hall Icon: Duke Ellington

Pianist, Composer, and Band Leader

By Carnegie Hall

Digital portrait by Stanley Chow, © Carnegie Hall

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra Flyer (1943) by Carnegie Hall ArchivesCarnegie Hall

By the time he made his wartime Carnegie Hall debut on January 23, 1943, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was already a star.

Black, Brown, and Beige Album Cover (1946) by Carnegie Hall ArchivesCarnegie Hall

A driving interest in long-form composition found it’s expression at that debut when he premiered his jazz symphony Black, Brown, and Beige, which he introduced as “a tone parallel to the history of the Negro in America.”

There are simply two kinds of music: good music and the other kind ... The only yardstick by which the result should be judged is simply that of how it sounds. If it sounds good, it’s successful; if it doesn’t, it has failed.


Concert featuring Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and others (1952) by Carnegie Hall ArchivesCarnegie Hall

The success of his debut and his new approach to jazz composition led to Ellington’s series of annual Carnegie Hall concerts, on which he always premiered at least one new work.

The music at his April 4, 1968, concert was overshadowed when, prior to the start of the concert, civil rights leader Robert Moses made an announcement from the stage that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot just an hour and a half earlier in Memphis. The concert continued as a dedication to the memory of Dr. King.

Duke Ellington Conducts Don Shirley and Symphony of the Air (1955) by Carnegie Hall ArchivesCarnegie Hall

Ellington’s final Carnegie Hall concert—of more than 20 in total—took place on July 8, 1972, two years before his death.

Learn more about Carnegie Hall Icons here.

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