by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born in 1899 in Washington D.C. His parents signed him up for piano lessons as a child but he wanted to play baseball instead. He gave up the piano until he discovered ragtime as a young man. He taught himself to play and went on to become a brilliant and accomplished band leader, entertainer, composer and recording artist. He has been called the greatest composer in American history. Pinkey’s telling of his development as a musician is musical and poetic:
“When Duke was nineteen, he was entertaining ladies and gents at parties, pool halls, country clubs, and cabarets. He had fine-as-pie good looks and flashy threads. He was a ladies’ man, with flair to spare. And whenever a pretty-skinned beauty leaned on Duke’s piano, he played his best music, compositions smoother than a hairdo sleeked with pomade.”As a read aloud for younger audiences (I read it to second grade) there may be some vocabulary to explain. I suggest you read it aloud to yourself a few times to get familiar with the flow of rhythms and picturesque language. In describing some of his most popular radio broadcasts of the 20s Pinkney says “Duke’s Creole Love Call was spicier than a pot of jambalaya. His Mood Indigo was a musical stream that swelled over the airwaves.” The text covers his life from childhood, through early band performances and through the development of his Orchestra from the Cotton Club days in the '20s to Carnegie Hall in 1943 when he was recognized as a master maestro. Duke used his music to celebrate the history of African Americans, expressing pride in his heritage, the beauty of his skin and the triumphs of the struggles of Black people.
Brian Pinkey’s scratch pad illustrations are vibrant colors filled with energy and movement. Together the text and the artwork bring out the full glory of Ellington’s accomplished life. I wish this were a book that came with a CD because it would really be wonderful to be able to hear his music as I read the book. I guess I’ll just have to find a recording and let it rip!
For further background on his life and accomplishments check out these links:
Literature Learning Ladders site with great list of links and lesson plans for primary and middles. Links for Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney and Duke Ellington.
PBS kids on Duke Ellington, grades 2 – 4.
The Ken Burns Duke Ellington Biography film companion site with sound files.