Jazz Conversations Lecture Series with Mercedes Ellington
BSM Jazz Department presents a book reading with dancer and choreographer Mercedes Ellington, the granddaughter of iconic bandleader Duke Ellington. Mercedes Ellington was the first African American member of the June Taylor Dancers, the featured performers on the Jackie Gleason Show. She will discuss her recent book entitled, ‘Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon.’ The BSM Jazz Ensemble will perform under the direction of Daniel Bennett.
Dancer and choreographer Mercedes Ellington was born and raised in New York City. Her father, Mercer Ellington, is the son of renowned composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. Mercedes Ellington received a scholarship to attend the Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet, but decided to enroll at The Juilliard School at her father’s insistence. Ellington’s first professional role was in a production of West Side Story in Australia. In 1963, Ellington became the first African American member of the June Taylor Dancers, the featured performers on The Jackie Gleason Show. She danced with the June Taylor Dancers for seven years, until she moved on to perform in Broadway shows like “No, No Nannette”, “The Night That Made America Famous”, “The Grand Tour”, and “Happy New Year”. In 1981, Ellington starred in Sophisticated Ladies alongside her father, who conducted the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
In 2004, Ellington founded Duke Ellington Center for the Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to scholarship, education, and performance connected to the legacy of Duke Ellington. Mercedes Ellington’s commitment to her grandfather’s legacy earned her numerous honors and awards, including the Actor’s Equity Association’s Paul Robeson Award and the FloBert Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, Ellington served on the local and national boards of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. In 2016, she co-authored the book entitled ‘Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon’ with Stephen Brower.