The Piano Prince and His Orchestra
Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrator: Brian Pinkney
Grade Level Equivalent:
Guided Reading Level:
Autobiography and Biography
African American, Composers and Musicians, African American History
The story of one of America's greatest composers, Duke Ellington, is lavishly told here in jazz-inspired prose. The young Duke, born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington D.C., in 1899, is introduced as a smooth talkin,' slick-steppin,' piano playin' kid with his "fine as pie looks and flashy threads" — thus earning him the name "Duke," by which he would be known his entire life.
First hearing ragtime, the music that would inspire him to return to the piano — after briefly abandoning it for baseball — Duke produced his own made-up melodies: "one-and-two-umpy-dump." As a young man, Duke founded a small band called the Washingtonians. Eager to experiment with livelier forms of music, the band soon split for New York City when they were invited to play at the famed Cotton Club in 1927.
Readers learn of other key milestones in Duke's life. For example, in 1939, Billy Strayhorn joined Duke's band, penning what is perhaps the orchestra's biggest hit: "Take the A Train"; and in 1943, Ellington's symphonic masterpiece celebrating the life of African Americans and their heritage, "Black, Brown and Beige," debuted at Carnegie Hall.
The almost breathless accounts are illustrated with lush, swirling illustrations created from a rainbow pallet. Dancers at the Cotton Club, for example, seem to fly off the page, colors trailing from their feet. A stunning introduction to Duke Ellington's life and work, the book includes a bibliography, videography, and list of museum exhibitions dedicated to Ellington.