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


Shop

More 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 "Man of the World: The Peter Green Story" DVD/Film Reviews Man of the World: The Peter Green Story
by Jim Trageser
Published: February 11, 2017
Read "The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome" Extended Analysis The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 27, 2016
Read "Giving Thanks & Sharing the Jazz Love" Website News Giving Thanks & Sharing the Jazz Love
by Michael Ricci
Published: November 24, 2016
Read "Albert We Hardly Knew Ye" Multiple Reviews Albert We Hardly Knew Ye
by Mark Corroto
Published: June 3, 2016
Read "WDR Jazz Fest 2016" Live Reviews WDR Jazz Fest 2016
by Phillip Woolever
Published: March 8, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!