Duke Ellington’s Birthplace

Posted: March 4, 2014 in Buildings, Public Figures, Roadside Attractions
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Duke Ellington’s Birthplace

The Duke Ellington Building at 2121 Ward Court (MAP) currently stands on the northwest D.C site where Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born in 1899.   A plaque denoting Ellington’s birth was installed on the building in 1990, and a mural recognizing Ellington’s connection to the city was added in November of 2011.  The building now houses a branch of the U.S. Postal Service.

Born to parents who were both musicians, Ellington began playing the piano at the age of seven. However, despite taking piano lessons, Ellington was more interested in playing baseball than tickling the ivories.  He enjoyed playing with other boys in his West End neighborhood, and once recalled that “President Roosevelt would come by on his horse sometimes, and stop and watch us play.”  Later on, Ellington’s first job was selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games.  Had Ellington chosen to continue to pursue baseball instead of music, the world may not have remembered him.  But by pursuing music, Duke Ellington became known internationally as one of the most pivotal figures in the history of jazz.

However, Ellington himself did not categorize his music as “jazz.”  Rather, he embraced the phrase “beyond category” and referred to his music as belonging to a more general musical genre which he called “American Music.”  Ellington eventually went on to originated over a thousand compositions during a career that spanned over 50 years, taking him to New York, and tours of Europe.  But he always continued to return to where it all began, right here in D.C.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

 

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