Program, Duke Ellington Sacred Music Concert, Richmond, 1968
Call number: ML410 .E44 D86 1968
The program included Ellington's explanation of the inspiration for the concerts and was autographed by many of the soloists. Ellington's related that "I think of myself as a messenger boy, one who tries to bring messages to people, not people who have never heard of God, but those who were more or less raised with the guidance of the Church. Now and then we encounter people who say they do not believe. I hate to say that they are out-and-out liars, but I believe they think it fashionable to speak like that . . ."
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Duke Ellington at the Mosque
Late in his career, jazz great Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899–1974) composed three "Sacred Concerts," longer works made up of vocal and instrumental pieces stemming from a religious theme. First performed at Grace (Episcopal) Cathedral in San Francisco in 1965, Ellington went on to reprise the concerts in 1968, and again in 1973. During the 1968 series, Ellington performed in Richmond at what was then known as the Mosque Auditorium (now, the Landmark Theater) on 8 November, accompanied by the choir of the Fifth Street Baptist Church. The Library of the Virginia Historical Society has several items related to the event.
Ellington merged components of jazz, blues, gospel, classical music, and choral expression in the arrangements, which were performed by his jazz orchestra and a full chorus. Setting Christian ideals to a varied score allowed Ellington's devout beliefs to come to the fore in both the music and in the subsequent publicity, as he openly discussed his earnest intentions with a somewhat skeptical press. It is perhaps unsurprising that in the tumultuous year of 1968 some critics found Ellington's religious direction to be either disingenuous or a bald advertisement for organized religion. But Ellington insisted otherwise: "This music is the most important thing I’ve ever done or am ever likely to do. This is personal, not career. Now I can say out loud to all the world what I've been saying to myself for years on my knees." Click here for more images.
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