Duke Ellington, the film composer | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 6, Issue 1-2
  • ISSN: 1751-4193
  • E-ISSN: 1751-4207



In the quantity of Duke Ellington’s oeuvre, his film music is only a small aspect. Nevertheless his first appearances on-screen were crucial to get nationwide attention. With the help of his impresario Irving Mills, he was the first African American musician to be featured in ‘white’ major Hollywood productions. Ellington was a visionary as a musician and as an entrepreneur. He also used his growing popularity to promote an image of African American culture and dignity that was completely different from the racist clichés that were cultivated in minstrel or blackface. Ellington managed to keep his band together even in the late 1940s when most other big bands had to give up. His sensational comeback concert in Newport 1956 catapulted him into new stardom and with this he became interesting again for Hollywood. In 1959 he was assigned by Otto Preminger to score his courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger, 1959). With this, he was the first African American to write a non-diegetic film score for a major Hollywood feature film. Some films such as Black and Tan Fantasy (Murphy, 1929) or Anatomy are discussed in detail.


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