April 29, 1899: Edward Kennedy Ellington is born at 2129 Ward Place NW in Washington, DC, USA, the second of three children (and eldest surviving) born to James Edward Ellington, a coachman, later butler for a wealthy society doctor, and Daisy Kennedy, daughter of a policeman.
July 2, 1918: Duke Ellington (19) marries Edna Thompson, a high school student, in Washington. She is pregnant.
March 10, 1921: Duke Ellington (21) meets his most important musical influence, Willie “the Lion” Smith, in the Capitol Palace, Harlem.
November 25, 1921: Duke Ellington (22) is persuaded to go on stage at the Convention Center in Washington to play for James P. Johnson, who is performing there. Ellington plays Carolina Shout and Johnson encourages the young man. The two men spend the night together talking well into the next morning. “What I absorbed on that occasion might, I think, have constituted a whole semester in a conservatory.”
July 26, 1923: Duke Ellington (24) takes part in a recording for the first time, with Elmer Snowden’s Novelty Band for Victor in New York. It will not be released.
April 7, 1927: The Duke Ellington (27) band records Black and Tan Fantasy in New York. This will bring them their first great fame.
December 4, 1927: The new, larger Ellington (28) orchestra opens at the Cotton Club in New York. They broadcast every night from midnight to 01:00 over CBS.
October 29, 1929: Black and Tan, a film with music by Duke Ellington (30), is released in the United States. Ellington and his orchestra appear in the film.
October 14, 1930: Duke Ellington (31) and the Harlem Footwarmers (one of many pseudonyms for his band) record Mood Indigo for OKeh Records.
October 20, 1930: Duke Ellington (31) and his band play Mood Indigo in public for the first time, from the Cotton Club over the airwaves of the NBC network.
October 25, 1930: Check and Double Check, a film with music by Duke Ellington (31), is released in the United States.
February 4, 1931: The contract of the Cotton Club, New York with the Duke Ellington (31) band ends. Although they will play the Cotton Club from time to time for the next nine years, they are now more and more on the road.
February 2, 1932: Duke Ellington (32) and his orchestra record It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing in New York.
March 10, 1932: Duke Ellington (32) and his Orchestra arrive in Los Angeles and are given a parade to their hotel. They go immediately to radio station KHJ and broadcast to the west coast.
October 25, 1932: Duke Ellington (33) and his Orchestra play for a class in music appreciation at New York University taught by Percy Grainger (50). Wallingford Riegger (47) is also present. Grainger favorably compares Ellington’s melodies with those of Frederick Delius (70) and Johann Sebastian Bach (†182). Ellington remarks “I’ll have to find out about this Delius.”
January 8, 1933: The New York School of Music confers on Duke Ellington (33) its award for the best composition of the year, for Creole Rhapsody.
June 2, 1933: The Duke Ellington (34) band sails from New York aboard the Olympia making for England.
June 9, 1933: The Duke Ellington (34) band disembarks at Southampton, met by a large crowd with reporters and photographers.
June 12, 1933: The Duke Ellington (34) band appears at the London Palladium for the first of several shows. The audiences are large and appreciative. The critics are unhappy.
July 27, 1933: The Duke Ellington (34) band performs the first of three concerts at the Salle Pleyel, Paris.
August 9, 1933: Duke Ellington (34) and his band return to New York after a two-month tour of Europe.
September 1, 1933: A Bundle of Blues, a film with music by Duke Ellington (34), is released in the United States.
April 26, 1934: Hollywood on Parade, a film with music by Duke Ellington (35), is released in the United States.
May 23, 1934: Murder at the Vanities, a film with music by Duke Ellington (35), is released in the United States. It is the first film featuring the Ellington band that was made in Hollywood.
June 6, 1934: Many Happy Returns, a film with music by Duke Ellington (35), is released in the United States.
September 21, 1934: Belle of the Nineties, a film with music by Duke Ellington (35), is released in the United States. The film stars Mae West.
May 27, 1935: Daisy Kennedy Ellington, mother of Duke Ellington (36), dies in a Detroit hospital. Ellington is stricken with grief and depression, exacerbated by alcohol, which will be with him for months.
September 12, 1935: Duke Ellington (36) and his Orchestra record his suite Reminiscing in Tempo in New York.
September 13, 1935: Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life, a film with music by Duke Ellington (36), is released in the United States. The singer is Billie Holiday.
February 27, 1936: The Duke Ellington (36) band records Clarinet Lament (Barney’s Concerto) and Echoes of Harlem (Cootie’s Concerto) in New York.
June 19, 1936: German heavyweight Max Schmeling defeats Joe Louis in Yankee Stadium, New York. Duke Ellington (37) is present and will compose It Was a Sad Night in Harlem in honor of the event.
April 10, 1937: Leopold Stokowski meets Duke Ellington (37) for the first time, during an intermission at the Cotton Club, New York.
September 20, 1937: Duke Ellington (38) and his Famous Orchestra record his suite Diminuendo in Blue/Crescendo in Blue in New York.
June 22, 1938: Joe Louis defeats Max Schmeling in Yankee Stadium, the Bronx to regain the heavyweight boxing title. In the audience is Duke Ellington (39) who has put off a hernia operation to witness the match.
July 1, 1938: Duke Ellington (39) undergoes an operation for a hernia at Wickersham Hospital, New York. He will be hospitalized for two weeks.
December 1, 1938: At a party at the Club Crawford in Pittsburgh, Duke Ellington (39) is introduced to Billy Strayhorn. The 23-year-old will be a big part of Ellington’s music in the future.
January 23, 1939: After making several arrangements and writing a new song called Take the A Train, Billy Strayhorn is told by Duke Ellington (39) that he is hired, at a theatre in Newark, New Jersey.
March 23, 1939: The Duke Ellington (39) band sets sail from New York aboard the Champlain for a tour of Europe.
April 3, 1939: The Duke Ellington (39) band performs in the Théâtre National, Paris to a full house. The scene will be repeated tomorrow.
April 6, 1939: Duke Ellington (39) and his band play two concerts at the Majestic Theatre in Antwerp.
April 8, 1939: Duke Ellington (39) and his band play in Utrecht in the afternoon and in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam at night.
April 11, 1939: Duke Ellington (39) and his band play a concert in Malmö, Sweden. In order to get to Sweden from the Netherlands, they travelled by train and bus through Germany.
April 29, 1939: A performance by the Duke Ellington band in the Konserthuset, Stockholm becomes a celebration of his 40th birthday.
May 1, 1939: On the 20th night of 20 one-night-stands, the Duke Ellington (40) band plays its last concert in Scandinavia on this tour.
May 4, 1939: Duke Ellington (39) and his band sail from Le Havre for New York aboard the Île de France.
February 22, 1940: Duke Ellington’s (40) exclusive recording contract with Victor Records goes into effect.
February 15, 1941: In Los Angeles, Duke Ellington (41) and his Orchestra record what will become his signature tune, Billy Strayhorn’s Take the A Train.
July 10, 1941: Jump for Joy, a revue with music mostly by Duke Ellington (42), opens at the Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles.
January 23, 1943: At a glittering charity event for Russian war relief at Carnegie Hall, which is attended by Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson, Benny Goodman, Langston Hughes, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, and Leopold Stokowski, Black, Brown, and Beige by Duke Ellington (43) is performed for the first time. The composer calls it “a tone parallel to the history of the American Negro.” The audience is disappointed, the critics savage the work. This is the first appearance of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
March 11, 1943: Cabin in the Sky, a film with music partly by Duke Ellington (43), is given its premiere in Dallas. The film was released last month.
July 13, 1943: In an interview broadcast over KFAC Los Angeles, Leopold Stokowski calls Duke Ellington (44) “one of America’s outstanding artists.”
December 11, 1943: New World a-Comin’ for piano and jazz ensemble by Duke Ellington (44) is performed for the first time, in Carnegie Hall, New York the composer at the keyboard.
March 14, 1944: Duke Ellington (44) delivers a lecture in Paine Hall of Harvard University. His topic is “Negro Music in America.”
December 19, 1944: Two extended compositions by Duke Ellington (45) are performed for the first time, in Carnegie Hall, New York: Blutopia and Perfume Suite (co-written by Billy Strayhorn).
March 14, 1945: A reception in honor of the visiting Heitor Villa-Lobos (58) takes place in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York. Among those attending are composers Aaron Copland (44), Cole Porter, Sigmund Romberg, and Morton Gould; conductors Walter Damrosch, Arthur Rodzinski, Leopold Stokowski, George Szell, Arturo Toscanini, and Eugene Ormandy; singers Marian Anderson, Bidú Sayão, and Ezio Pinza; instrumentalists Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington (45), Joseph Szigeti, Claudio Arrau, Yehudi Menhuin, and José Iturbi; as well as Fiorello La Guardia, Deems Taylor, and Nelson Rockefeller.
December 3, 1946: Twilight Alley, a musical play with music by Duke Ellington (47) (and an uncredited Billy Strayhorn) to words of LaTouche after Gay, is performed for the first time, in Boston. The reaction is so bad, director John Houseman leaves the show. It will be seriously revamped and the name changed to Beggar’s Holiday before it hits New York.
December 26, 1946: Beggar’s Holiday, a musical play with music by Duke Ellington (47) (and an uncredited Billy Strayhorn) to words of LaTouche after Gay, opens in New York, in the Broadway Theatre. Reviews are mixed. It will see 111 performances. See 3 December 1946.
December 24, 1947: Duke Ellington (48) and his Orchestra record Liberian Suite in New York. The work was commissioned by the Republic of Liberia to celebrate its centennial.
June 4, 1948: Duke Ellington (49) sails from New York aboard the Media for a tour of Great Britain. The British Musicians’ Union does not allow the band to perform so he is accompanied only by singer Kay Davis and musician/dancer Ray Nance.
June 21, 1948: Duke Ellington (49) and his two companions begin a two-week engagement at London’s Palladium Theatre.
July 20, 1948: Duke Ellington (49), his two companions, and a British trio perform at the Salle Pleyel, Paris.
July 30, 1948: Duke Ellington (49), Kay Davis, and Ray Nance board the Queen Elizabeth in Cherbourg making for New York.
August 4, 1948: Exactly two months after they sailed for Europe, Duke Ellington (49), Kay Davis, and Ray Nance arrive back in New York.
November 13, 1948: Two works by Duke Ellington (49) are performed for the first time, in Carnegie Hall, New York: The Tattooed Bride and Symphomaniac, the latter a collaboration with Billy Strayhorn.
July 10, 1949: Duke Ellington (50) appears on television for the first time, on the NBC program Garroway at Large in Chicago.
March 29, 1950: The Duke Ellington (50) band departs New York aboard the Île de France for an extended tour of Europe.
April 12, 1950: The Duke Ellington (50) band play the first of a five-day engagement at the Théâtre National, Paris.
June 20, 1950: The Duke Ellington (51) band play two concerts in the Salle Wagram, Paris. These are the last performances of their European tour.
June 30, 1950: The Duke Ellington (51) band return to New York aboard the Île de France after a three-month tour of Europe.
September 29, 1950: Duke Ellington (51) meets with President Truman at the White House and presents him with a manuscript copy of his Harlem.
January 21, 1951: Duke Ellington (51) and His Orchestra play a benefit concert at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. They perform his Harlem for the first time.
June 20, 1951: An orchestral version of Duke Ellington’s (52) Harlem is performed for the first time, in Lewisohn Stadium, New York.
February 15, 1952: Along with several other patrons of the Silver Slipper Club in San Antonio, Texas, Duke Ellington (52) is arrested for liquor curfew violations. He pleads guilty, pays a fine of $5.00, and is released.
April 6, 1953: At his first recording session with Capitol Records, Duke Ellington (53) introduces Satin Doll.
March 16, 1955: Night Creature for jazz orchestra and symphony orchestra by Duke Ellington (55) is performed for the first time, in Carnegie Hall, New York.
July 7, 1956: Duke Ellington (57) and his band play the last night of the Newport Jazz Festival. In the middle of an extended solo by saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, one audience member, Elaine Anderson, is so moved by the music, she begins to dance. This works the crowd of 7,000 into a frenzy and urges Gonsalves on to new heights. The audience rises from their seats and presses on to the stage. The remainder of the performance takes place in an atmosphere of wild excitement, by musicians and listeners. Tomorrow, Duke Ellington will be the most famous band leader in the world.
July 10, 1956: Duke Ellington (57) enters into a three-year exclusive contract with Columbia Records.
April 28, 1957: Such Sweet Thunder, a suite based on several Shakespeare characters by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, is performed for the first time, in Town Hall, New York. It is the eve of Ellington’s 58th birthday.
May 8, 1957: Duke Ellington’s (58) choreographic suite A Drum is a Woman is performed for the first time, over the airwaves of CBS television.
October 18, 1958: Duke Ellington (59) and his Orchestra play two concerts in Leeds. Later, Ellington is presented to Queen Elizabeth II. Ellington tells her that she makes him feel “tremendously inspired.”
May 16, 1959: Duke Ellington (60) flies to Los Angeles from Michigan to work on the score to the film Anatomy of a Murder.
July 1, 1959: Anatomy of a Murder, a film with music by Duke Ellington (60), is released in the United States.
February 22, 1960: Duke Ellington (60) enters the Blue Jay Restaurant in Baltimore and is refused service because he is black.
September 5, 1961: Duke Ellington (62) cancels a concert in Little Rock, Arkansas when he learns the audience will be segregated.
September 27, 1961: Paris Blues, a film with music by Duke Ellington (62), is released in the United States.
January 24, 1962: Duke Ellington (62) plays his first solo concert as pianist, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
July 20, 1963: Incidental music to Shakepeare’s play Timon of Athens by Duke Ellington (64) is performed for the first time, in Stratford, Ontario. Critics are generally positive.
August 16, 1963: Duke Ellington’s (64) My People is performed for the first time, in the McCormick Place center in Chicago.
July 30, 1965: The suite The Golden Broom and the Green Apple for jazz rhythm section and orchestra by Duke Ellington (66) is performed for the first time, in Philharmonic Hall, New York.
September 16, 1965: First Sacred Concert for singers and players by Duke Ellington (66) is performed for the first time, in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.
January 25, 1966: Pousse Cafe, a musical by Duke Ellington (66) to words of Barer, is performed for the first time, in Toronto. See 16 March 1966.
March 18, 1966: Pousse Cafe, a musical by Duke Ellington (66) to words of Barer and Weidman, opens in New York, at the 46th Street Theatre. The critics are scathing. It will close tomorrow.
July 27, 1966: Assault on a Queen, a film with music by Duke Ellington (67), is released in the United States.
January 19, 1968: Second Sacred Concert for soloists, choruses, and players by Duke Ellington (68) is performed for the first time, in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. It is a disaster.
September 2, 1968: Duke Ellington (69) and His Orchestra arrive in Rio de Janeiro at the start of a two-and-a-half week tour of South America.
November 21, 1968: Duke Ellington (69) is named by US President Johnson to the National Council on the Arts.
January 20, 1969: Richard Milhous Nixon replaces Lyndon Baines Johnson as President of the United States. Duke Ellington (69) and his Orchestra perform at an inaugural ball in the Smithsonian Institution.
April 29, 1969: A party in honor of Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday takes place at the White House hosted by President and Mrs. Nixon. Ellington and many other jazz luminaries perform.
October 1, 1969: Change of Mind, a film with music by Duke Ellington (70), is released in the United States.
April 25, 1970: New Orleans Suite by Duke Ellington (70) is performed for the first time, at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
June 25, 1970: The River, an unfinished ballet by Duke Ellington (71) to a choreography by Alvin Ailey, is performed for the first time, at the New York State Theatre.
March 12, 1971: Duke Ellington (71) is inducted into the Swedish Academy of Music at the Swedish Consulate in New York.
April 16, 1971: Goutelas Suite by Duke Ellington (70) is performed for the first time, at Lincoln Center, New York.
September 10, 1971: Duke Ellington (72) and his Orchestra land in Moscow beginning a three-week tour of the Soviet Union.
September 13, 1971: Duke Ellington (72) and his Orchestra play the first of five concerts in Leningrad.
July 8, 1973: Duke Ellington (74) is inducted into the Legion of Honor in a ceremony at the French Consulate in New York.
October 24, 1973: Third Sacred Concert for soloists, choruses, and players by Duke Ellington (74) is performed for the first time, in Westminster Abbey, in the presence of Princess Margaret and Prime Minister Edward Heath.
March 21, 1974: After a performance in De Kalb, Illinois, Mercer Ellington takes his father Duke Ellington (74) to Northern Illinois University Hospital. After determining how sick he is, they call his doctors in New York who advise that he may enter a hospital there at any time. An intern asks Mercer, “Does he know that when he goes in this time he’s not ever coming back out anymore?” (Teachout, 357)
May 27, 1974: A funeral is held for Duke Ellington in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. Upwards of 12,000 people attend, either in the church or outside. Loudspeakers broadcast the service outside, as does radio station WRVR. His earthly remains are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
April 12, 1999: The Pulitzer Committee bestows a special citation posthumously on Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (†24), commemorating the centennial year of his birth, in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture.