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He Took The 'A' Train

The man who made "Take the 'A' Train" his signature song was none other than the musical giant Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as Duke Ellington. Ellington (1899-1974) was born in Washington, D.C., and by the time he was 15, he was composing. For more than 50 years, Ellington and his band worked with artists such as Irving Berlin, Florenz Ziegfeld, Al Jolson, Lena Horn, Ella Fitzgerald, Max Roach, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Bing Crosby and many more.

Portrait of Duke Ellington, Paramount Theater, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1946 Portrait of Charlie Parker, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. 1947

Ellington's partnership with Billy Strayhorn is considered one of the most important in American music. Strayhorn, who joined the band in 1939, composed and co-wrote some of the most famous pieces associated with Ellington, including "Take the 'A' Train." Their partnership worked so smoothly that they were even able to write songs over the telephone. In his autobiography, "Music Is My Mistress," Ellington refers to Strayhorn as " right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head and his in mine."

Ellington is just one of many "Amazing Americans" in the America's Library Web site. Although this site was designed with kids in mind, its entertaining and educational stories appeal to users of all ages. From George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Harry Houdini and Amelia Earhart, the "amazing" achievements of the people who helped make America a nation like no other are told using materials from the collections of the Library of Congress.

Photographs of Ellington and other jazz legends can be found in "William P. Gottlieb: photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz." This collection comprises more than 1,600 photographs of celebrated jazz artists that document the jazz scene from 1938 to 1948, primarily in New York City and Washington, D.C. In 1938 Gottlieb began working for The Washington Post, where he wrote and illustrated a weekly jazz column. After World War II he was employed as a writer-photographer for Down Beat magazine, and his work also appeared frequently in other publications. During the course of his career, Gottlieb took portraits of such luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Ray McKinley, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Carter, as well as Ellington.

You can search on any of these names to find their images. Or browse by name, subject or venue to discover some unfamiliar jazz greats and the places they played.

In a section called "In His Own Words" Gottlieb recalls the circumstances of some of his work. For example, he tells how he took a photo of Ellington in a mirror because it helped to "amplify details." In an intimate dressing room shot, you can see Ellington's 20 suits and 15 shirts and the smiling musician in sartorial splendor.

The Library of Congress Information Bulletin ran a story in 1997 on the Library's receipt of the Ella Fitzgerald Collection. The Information Bulletin monthly newsletter, which reports on the events, programs, policies, exhibitions and collections of the Library, is available online.

And Ellington's birthday, April 29, is celebrated in the Today in History Web site, which offers historical articles for every day of the year.

A. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. [Portrait of Duke Ellington, Paramount Theater, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1946]. Caption from Down Beat: Fifth in the series of staff lensman Bill Gottlieb's intimate dressing room shots of musical celebrities is Duke Ellington, with the mirror reflecting his always present piano, his conservative ties, his 20 suits, his 15 shirts, his suede shoes and his smiling self. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-GLB13-0229 DLC (b&w film neg.); Call No.: LC-GLB13- 0229

B. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. [Portrait of Charlie Parker, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. 1947]. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-GLB23-0690 DLC (b&w film neg.); Call No.: LC-GLB23- 0690

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