The Duke’s Lessons on Ellingtonian Exceptionalism


The Duke’s Lessons on Ellingtonian Exceptionalism

From blockbuster songs to stage musicals, ensemble tone poems, and film soundtracks, his output in the twentieth century was unsurpassed, including “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Mood Indigo,” “Jump for Joy,” and more than 1,700 pieces spanning five decades. However, in order to comprehend Duke Ellington’s life—and the lives of African-Americans throughout much of the twentieth century—necessary it’s to know where he began. And in what way.

He was born in 1899 in Washington, D.C., one of America’s most racially divided cities. Terry Teachout, author of Duke, a wonderful book about Ellington’s life, told This website, “It was the Northern edge of the Deep South, but it also had a substantial, rich Black middle class.” “That is what characterizes the area where he grew up. It was a location where well-to-do and destitute Black people, striving and desperate, were put together.”

Teachout observed that it was a violent area, as well as a society with class differences that paralleled those in the white world. When it came to skin color, there was also discrimination among Blacks. Teachout noted, “Ellington was born to light-skinned parents.” “His mother was descended from a senator, which gave them a leg up on the social ladder. Because he was the butler of a white doctor, Ellington’s father was considered very high up on the social ladder.”

His mother had high expectations for her kid. “You are unique. She’d assure him, “You’re going to do incredible things.” Teachout claims she frequently used the phrase “Ellingtonian exceptionalism.” “She was absolutely serious about it,” says the narrator.

Ellington, like many other American inventors, learnt by doing rather than studying. According to Teachout’s book, Ellington said, “As far as anyone educating me, there were too many rules and regulations, and I just couldn’t be shackled into that.” “Things was fine as long as I could sit down and figure it out for myself.”

He was earning $150 a week as the leader of a well-known local band by his late teens. Then came the 1919 race riots in Washington, D.C. “They were frightening and brutal. And it made many Black people realize how vulnerable their lives were,” Teachout said. “It doesn’t seem feasible that they didn’t have an impact on Ellington.”

Ellington. This is a condensed version of the information.


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