This Day in Black History: May 24, 1974

Renowned composer and musician Duke Ellington died at age 74.

Posted: 05/24/2014 12:00 AM EDT
This Day in Black History: May 24, 1974

Edward Kennedy "Duke" 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."

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 and music created for a broad range of settings, from the cathedral to the stage, he appeared on radio and in film.

More than 12,000 people attended Ellington's funeral at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was a very sad day, noted Ella Fitzgerald, "A genius has passed."

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(Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis)

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