Ellington, Duke (Edward Kennedy Ellington), 1899–1974, American jazz musician and composer, b. Washington, D.C. Ellington made his first professional appearance as a jazz pianist in 1916. By 1918 he had formed a band, and after appearances in nightclubs in Harlem he became one of the most famous figures in American jazz. Ellington’s orchestra, playing his own and Billy Strayhorn’s compositions and arrangements, achieved a fine unity of style and made many innovations in the jazz idiom.
Many instrumental virtuosos worked closely with Ellington for long periods of time. Among his best-known short works are Mood Indigo,Solitude, and Sophisticated Lady. He also wrote jazz works of complex orchestration and ambitious scope for concert presentation, notably Creole Rhapsody (1932), Black, Brown and Beige (1943), Liberian Suite (1947), Harlem (1951), and Night Creatures (1955), and composed religious music, including three sacred concerts (1965, 1968, and 1973). Ellington made many tours of Europe, appeared in numerous jazz festivals and several films, and made hundreds of recordings. In 1969 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.