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Ellington 125

Title treatment reads Ellington 125 next to a caricature of Duke Ellington in a top hat

Beyond Category

Duke Ellington didn’t call it jazz. He called his music “American Music,” and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category.”

But no one deserves that description more than The Duke.

Throughout the 2023–2024 season, the Kennedy Center commemorates Duke Ellington’s 125 birthday with institution-wide celebrations of the American icon who changed how the world heard music. An outstanding musician, charismatic band leader, and prolific composer, the Washington, D.C. native was an innovator across an expansive and eclectic range of styles…from pop and theatrical to swing, fusion, and beyond. See what’s coming and join the party!

Ellington 125 Events

Fortas Chamber Music Concerts

Dover Quartet with Leif Ove Andsnes

Tue. Apr. 23, 2024

A Fortas favorite since its Kennedy Center debut, Dover Quartet joins our season-wide Ellington 125 celebration with an arrangement of “In a Sentimental Mood.” Two piano quintets complete the program, featuring guest pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.

Millennium Stage (In-Person and Livestream)

The Jefferson High School Jazz Band 

Wed. Apr. 24, 2024 6p.m.

Under the direction of JP Lynch, this performance by the award-winning band from Shenandoah Junction, WV, is a preview for the May 2, 2024 Regional Jazz at Lincoln Center Essentially Ellington Festival in Winchester, VA. The performance will include hits such as “Take the A Train,” “In a Mellow Tone,” and others.

Tomeka Reid, Celebrating Ellington 

Wed. Apr. 24, 2024

Described as a “New Jazz Power Source” by the New York Times, cellist extraordinaire Tomeka Reid presents her groundbreaking new work inspired by Duke Ellington. Be among the first to witness this Kennedy Center co-commission as Reid seamlessly captures the essence of Ellington, all while propelling jazz into bold new territories.

  • MyTix
  • Student Rush

Accessibility/VSA

Three Keys to Ellington: Justin Kauflin, José André Montaño, Matthew Whitaker

Fri. Apr. 26, 2024

At this Duke Ellington–inspired piano showcase, we spotlight three ferociously talented award-winning musicians: Justin Kauflin, José André Montaño, and Matthew Whitaker. Join us for an evening that will delight the jazz piano lover in your life. This performance is part of The Rosemary Kennedy Performing & Visual Arts Series.

Millennium Stage (In-Person and Livestream)

Jazz Houston Orchestra

Sat. Apr. 27, 2024 6p.m.

Bring your dancing shoes and hit our dance floor with this special dance version of Millennium Stage, complete with swingin’ live music of Duke Ellington performed by the 15-piece Jazz Houston Orchestra, Vincent Gardner, Music Director. Honored guest in attendance, Mercedes Ellington.

Millennium Stage Films

Extraordinary Cinema: On the Road with Duke Ellington

Sun. Apr. 28, 2024 3p.m.

Join us for a FREE film screening in the Justice Forum at the REACH. Filmed just six years before Duke Ellington’s death and at the peak of his career, On the Road with Duke Ellington serves as perhaps the most revealing an intimate portrait of the artist ever recorded. Featuring a post-screening panel with Duke Ellington’s granddaughter, Mercedes Ellington, moderated by NEA Jazz Master and DC Jazz Festival Artistic Director Willard Jenkins.

Cyrus Chestnut: Duke Ellington Sacred Concert

Mon. Apr. 29, 2024

At this once-in-a-lifetime event, Cyrus Chestnut brings his epic interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts to life. Don’t miss a rare performance of this joyful music embracing the gospel, jazz, blues, swing, and classical styles that defined The Duke’s work and spirituality.

  • MyTix
  • Student Rush

A young Duke Ellington gazes off camera with a smile in black and white photo

Meet the Artist

Duke Ellington influenced millions of people both around the world and at home. He gave American music its own sound for the first time. In his fifty year career, he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East as well as Asia. Simply put, Ellington transcends boundaries and fills the world with a treasure trove of music that renews itself through every generation of fans and music-lovers. His legacy continues to live on and will endure for generations to come.

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Resources for Educators and Students

Media Duke Ellington + Harlem

Duke Ellington enjoyed tremendous success as a jazz musician and bandleader during the Harlem Renaissance. But Ellington saw that jazz could be more and push beyond a single category​.​ ​H​is 1950 symphonic composition, Harlem, demonstrated unprecedented storytelling through the jazz idiom.

  • History
  • Orchestral Music
  • Jazz & Blues

Interactive Drop Me Off in Harlem

Meet the actors, musicians, artists, dancers, writers, activists, and supporters of the early 20th century Harlem Renaissance, and discover the creative, cultural, and political “intersections” they made with each other.

A photo of a street view of the Cotton Club, featuring its main building sign and nearby billboards promoting performers at the venue. Two old-fashioned vehicles—one white and one black—are parked on the street. The black and white photo has been modified so the top half of the image has colorful tints in pink, green, yellow, and orange tinting the billboards.

Media Ellington Voices

In this Kennedy Center commission, two of today’s top vocalists explore how classical sounds intertwine with improvisational jazz in the music of Duke Ellington, blending European classical traditions with syncopated rhythms and African American work songs, blues, and spiritual music.

Ellington 125 Sponsors

Ellington 125: Around Town

  • ˪  at The Warner Theater
    Experience an electrifying evening as The Washington Ballet honors DC native Duke Ellington through a world premiere by Silas Farley set to The Duke’s Shakespearean Suite Such Sweet Thunder.