Mercer Ellington

Mercer Kennedy Ellington, born March 11, 1919, died February 8, 1996. He was an American jazz trumpeter and composer. Ellington was the son of Duke Ellington, a famous composer, pianist and bandleader, and Edna Thompson. He had already written the first piece that his father recorded (“Pigeons and Peppers”) by the age of 18. He led his own bands in 1939, 1946-1949 and 1959. Many of his members went on to play with him or achieve independent fame, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Kenny Dorham, Idrees Suelieman, Chico Hamilton and Charles Mingus. He wrote many standards during the 1940s, such as “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”, “Jumpin’ Punkins”, and “Moon Mist”. He also wrote lyrics to Hillis Walters’ popular song “Pass Me By” (1946), that was recorded by Lena Horne (Carmen McRae) and Peggy Lee. From 1940 to 1941, he composed for his dad, served as the road manager for Cootie Wilkins’ orchestra (1941-1943 and again in 1954), then returned to his father’s job in 1950 as an E-flat horn player, and later as the general manager and copyist between 1955 and 1959. He became Della Reese’s musical director in 1960, and then went on to become a New York radio DJ for three years in 1962. He returned to his father’s orchestra in 1965, this time as a trumpeter and manager. Ellington assumed control of the orchestra after his father’s death in 1974. He took the orchestra on tours to Europe in 1975-77 (his son Edward Ellington played in the band in late 1970s and Paul Mercer Ellington took it over later). Ellington has a daughter, Mercedes Ellington. Ellington was the first conductor of a Broadway musical based on his father’s music in the 1980s, Sophisticated Lady. The Duke Ellington Orchestra, which included Barrie Lee Hall and Tommy James, J.J. Wiggins and Shelly Carrol, was formed before his death. Mercer Ellington was a performer up until the day of Ellington’s passing. Ellington, who was just one month away from his seventy-seventh Birthday, died from a heart attack. Paul Ellington, who also manages the Estate of Mercer, still directs the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

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