Duke Ellington – My People
Saturday August 19th, 2023, 3:00 PM – Duke Ellington.
Exactly 60 years ago, on August 19, 1963, the opening of a special event took place in Chicago. Slavery was abolished in the Southern States on January 1, 1863, and this was celebrated in grand style a hundred years later with the Century of Negro Progress Exposition. The festivities lasted almost two weeks. Duke Ellington’s contribution to the centenary was a stage show, with music, both sung and spoken lyrics and various theatrical elements. The show was performed several times a day. In 1965 the recording appeared on the album My People, produced by Bob Thiele.
The instrumental line-ups vary in size – from a few musicians to a big band. The vocalists have the lions’share. They are the ones who express in words the all-encompassing theme of commemorating slavery. And here too the texture varies: from solo to mixed chorus – from singing to spoken word. Many Biblically based texts: ‘O Lord…’ The piece My People (Soap Box) is a rhetorically strong speech by Ellington in which he recalls in powerful terms the positive contribution of African Americans to American prosperity and culture: “The foundation of the United States rests on the sweat of my people…” After each phrase, the singers agree, as if in a church service.
There are pieces based on Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige from 1943. There is also a block of Blues pieces. The opening of the show, Jungle Triangle, is a rousing intro with lots of percussion. King Fit the Battle of Alabam is a tribute to Martin Luther King.
Variation everywhere, but Duke Ellington’s fingerprint is on everything.
Duke Ellington – a programme by Louis Tavecchio
photo: Martin Luther King (left) and Duke Ellington (right)