This Day in Black History: Feb. 24, 2009

The U.S. Mint releases a coin featuring jazz legend Duke Ellington.

Posted: 02/24/2014 12:00 AM EST

Composer and band leader Duke Ellington had an undeniably legendary career in music, but that's not his only claim to fame. On Feb. 24, 2009, the U.S. Mint honored the Washington, D.C., native with a commemorative coin, making him the first African-American to be featured on a U.S. coin.

"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 told NBC News.

Previously, the only coin to depict a Black person was a Missouri state coin on which the explorers Lewis and Clark were depicted with a slave, the network reports.

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born on April 29, 1899, to musician parents. He composed his first piece of music, "Soda Fountain Rag," at age 15, based on his job as a soda jerk. At age 17, he passed up an art scholarship to study at the Pratt Institute in New York to become a professional musician. Some of his most memorable compositions include "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and "Sophisticated Lady." In addition to making hundreds of recordings, he appeared on radio and in film.

Ellington, the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and several other honors, died on May 24, 1974, in New York City. His last words were, "Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered."

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(Photo: Courtesy United States Mint)

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