Support All About Jazz

All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. Pay $20 and we'll hide those six pesky Google ads that appear on every page, plus this box and the slideout box on the right for a full year! You'll also fund website expansion.

I want to help

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


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


CD/LP/Track Review
Anatomy of a Standard
Book Reviews
What is Jazz?
Best of / Year End
What is Jazz?
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
Rotterdam 1969
Rotterdam 1969
Storyville Records
At The Cotton Club
At The Cotton Club
Storyville Records
Duke Ellington In Grona Lund
Duke Ellington In...
Storyville Records
The Duke At Fargo 1940 Special 60th Anniversary Edition
The Duke At Fargo...
Storyville Records
[no cover]
In Grand Company
The Ellington Suites
The Ellington Suites
Original Jazz Classics Remasters
Miles Davis Miles Davis
Charlie Parker Charlie Parker
sax, alto
Count Basie Count Basie
Charles Mingus Charles Mingus
bass, acoustic
Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald
Benny Goodman Benny Goodman
Glenn Miller Glenn Miller
Cab Calloway Cab Calloway

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus
Support our sponsor

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY IT  

New Service For Musicians!

Boost your visibility at All About Jazz and drive traffic to your website with Premium Musician Profile.