Duke Ellington Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Duke Ellington was a famous African American jazz musician. In this lesson, learn about Duke Ellington's life and music, and find out some cool facts about the man with the big band.

Early Life of a Star

Introducing, the band leader who is famous for wearing a sharp tuxedo and writing and playing great jazz music: Mr. Duke Ellington!

This African American musician was born Edward Kennedy Ellington in 1899, and he was destined to love music thanks to his parents. They both played instruments, and Duke developed his musical talents early thanks to their influence. By age seven he was taking piano lessons, and he was a composer by his teens. A composer is a person who writes music.

He got married when he was nineteen years old to Edna Thompson, who had been his sweetheart in high school. They had one son, and his name was Mercer Kennedy Ellington. And how did he get the nickname Duke? His mother raised him to be a kind, gentle, and respectful young man, and he was a sharp dresser! Friends began calling him Duke because a 'duke' is a kind of royalty and they felt like he deserved a royal, noble name.

Harlem Renaissance

Ellington became a part of something called the Harlem Renaissance. This was a movement around the 1920s in Harlem, New York, where African American artists excelled in many different ways. Painters, poets, and musicians all shared their talents, including Ellington. The Harlem Renaissance was significant because it encouraged African American artists at a time when they were not treated as equals to others in the U.S. But even in Harlem there was discrimination. Ellington was now a band leader, and his group performed at the famous Cotton Club, which was a nightclub where only white people were allowed to attend.

Duke Ellington became a band leader and his group was a part of the Harlem Renaissance.

Cotton Club to Europe

Ellington received a lot of praise and fame for his talent, and he and his band started playing on Broadway in New York City. At one point he had ten members in his band, and he wrote many songs for them to perform. His band was so popular that they even traveled to Europe twice to bring their music overseas. Pretty amazing for someone whose first job was as a server in a small café.

Duke Ellington wrote many songs for his band to perform, and they traveled to Europe twice to tour.
jazz musician

Overall, Ellington's career lasted over fifty years. During his professional life he was in films, on the radio and on television. He also wrote an autobiography about his personal life and what his career was like as a famous African American composer.

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