All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Big Jazz Nerd

534

Who Was Duke's Sophisticated Lady?

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Dear Big Jazz Nerd,

Whom was Duke Ellington referring to when he wrote "Sophisticated Lady"?

Amy Alexander
Houston, Texas


Amy,

A good guess would be his mom, Daisy Kennedy Ellington. History tells us that she was a beautiful, intelligent, educated woman who doted on her son, Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899-1974). Duke worshiped Daisy, but his 1932 masterpiece was not written about her or any one woman in particular. Rather, the tune was actually a composite musical sketch of three women—three of young Ellington's grade school teachers in the U Street neighborhood of Washington D.C. "They taught all winter and toured Europe in the summer. To me that spelled sophistication, Duke said.

"Sophisticated Lady was originally an instrumental mood piece. Later, Tin Pan Alley lyricist Mitchell Parish ("Stardust, "Ruby, "Moonlight Serenade ) added words to Ellington's lilting melody, telling the sorry tale of a wealthy, love-lost socialite "smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow. Ellington approved of Parish's lyrics, calling them "wonderful—but not entirely fitted to my original conception.

Interestingly enough, "Sophisticated Lady is also the title of a 1989 British documentary film celebrating the life of the great jazz singer Adelaide Louise Hall (1901-1993), whose 1927 hit recording of Ellington's sexually-charged "Creole Love Call rocketed both to international stardom. Known to many in the UK as the "First Lady of Jazz, Adelaide was born in Brooklyn and raised in Harlem at the height of the Jazz Age.

She appeared in the all-black musicals "Shuffle Along (1921) and "Runnin' Wild (1923) and toured Europe as the star of "The Chocolate Kiddies Revue (1925). The toast of Broadway throughout the '20s and early '30s, Adelaide sang and danced with Bojangles, gigged with accompanist Art Tatum, and toured internationally on numerous occasions— making her, in 1931, reportedly the richest black woman in America.

In 1935 she moved to England, where her star continued to rise on stage and screen. The result of relocation, however, was that she was largely forgotten in the US over the proceeding decades. She returned to the States on rare occasions, appearing at the 1979 Newport Jazz Fest production of "Black Broadway. Two sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall in March 1992, marked her last performances in America. Adelaide Hall, a very sophisticated lady, indeed.

Wikipedia Bio
Adelaide Hall

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Real Jazz at The Real School Big Jazz Nerd
Real Jazz at The Real School
by AAJ Staff
Published: December 13, 2007
Read The Adorable Mr. Jarrett Big Jazz Nerd
The Adorable Mr. Jarrett
by AAJ Staff
Published: August 29, 2006
Read Who Was Duke's Sophisticated Lady? Big Jazz Nerd
Who Was Duke's Sophisticated Lady?
by AAJ Staff
Published: May 31, 2006
Read Bass and Bitter Rivals Big Jazz Nerd
Bass and Bitter Rivals
by AAJ Staff
Published: February 11, 2006
Read Who was Spider Martin? Big Jazz Nerd
Who was Spider Martin?
by AAJ Staff
Published: December 9, 2005
Read George's Braithophone Big Jazz Nerd
George's Braithophone
by AAJ Staff
Published: November 8, 2005
Read ""Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser" Anatomy of a Standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser
by Tish Oney
Published: December 1, 2017
Read "The Timeless Voice Of Billie Holiday" Charts of Elegance The Timeless Voice Of Billie Holiday
by Ava Louise
Published: February 6, 2018
Read "Going Solo" Mr. P.C.'s Guide to Jazz Etiquette... Going Solo
by Mr. P.C.
Published: October 1, 2018
Read "John Mayall: In The Pocket at 84" SoCal Jazz John Mayall: In The Pocket at 84
by Jim Worsley
Published: March 11, 2018
Read "Borneo Jazz Festival 2018" Live Reviews Borneo Jazz Festival 2018
by Wolfgang Konig
Published: May 26, 2018
Read "Bob James Trio at Nighttown" Live Reviews Bob James Trio at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: June 29, 2018