Duke Ellington's "Encore"

Duke Ellington’s “Encore”

On this bike ride I rode to Ellington Plaza in the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood’s “U Street corridor” in northwest D.C., to see a statue entitled “Encore.”  Located in front of The Howard Theatre at Florida Avenue and T Street (MAP), the 20-foot stainless steel statue on a granite base depicts Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as “Duke” Ellington, who was a native Washingtonian.  It was created by sculptor Zachary Oxman, also a D.C. native, who was commissioned to complete the piece by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.  The statue depicts Ellington sitting on a giant treble clef while playing a curved piano.  The site where the statue is located was chosen because Ellington spent his childhood and the early years of his career in the neighborhood.

Ellington got his nickname when childhood friends noticed that “his casual, offhand manner, his easy grace, and his dapper dress gave him the bearing of a young nobleman.” and then began calling him Duke.  Ellington credited his friend Edgar McEntree for the moniker, stating, “I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title. So he called me Duke.”  The title stayed with him for the rest of his life.

It was not until his teen years, when he began hanging out at Frank’s Billiards next door to the Howard Theater, that Duke Ellington really focused on a musical career that would eventually lead to him being considered one of the best  American composers, pianists and jazz orchestras bandleaders of all time.

In New York, jazz musicians were in demand and by 1923 The Duke moved to Harlem, and formed his first band, the Washingtonians.  Once his career took off, he not only played local venues including the Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall, but toured and played internationally, including Europe, South America and Australia.  But even after achieving success and national recognition through recordings, radio broadcasts, and film appearances, Ellington continued to return many times to D.C. to perform.  One of his most important trips was to give a boost to the re-opening of the Howard Theater that had fallen on hard times in the late 1920s.  At the Howard, beginning on September 29, 1931, Ellington was the top headliner and played to standing-room-only audiences for an entire week.  It was this commitment and dedication to the neighborhood and the Howard Theater that makes it an ideal location for this fitting tribute.

DukeEllington1        DukeEllington2

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