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Duke Ellington, Robert R. Church, and The Beale Street Auditorium

Updated on January 31, 2017
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Robert Odell Jr. is the senior video editor of the film, "Take Me Back to Beale," a chronicle of 100 years of Beale Street history.

Duke Ellington Played at Robert Church's Beale Street Auditorium in Memphis, TN

Duke Ellington's career catapulted in 1the 1940's.  His concert tours included the Beale Street Auditorium, built in 1899 by Robert Reed Church, Sr. (the first black millionaire in Memphis, Tennessee)
Duke Ellington's career catapulted in 1the 1940's. His concert tours included the Beale Street Auditorium, built in 1899 by Robert Reed Church, Sr. (the first black millionaire in Memphis, Tennessee) | Source

Destined For Musical Greatness

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born on April 29, 1899, in Washington, D.C. (in the same year that The Beale Street Auditorium was Built).

Duke Ellington has been known to call music his mistress. When one peers into his early life, it is easy to see why he made that statement.

Duke Ellington was reared by two talented, musical parents, James Edward Ellington and Daisy (Kennedy) Ellington.

  • Both of Duke's parents were pianists.
  • Daisy Ellington (Duke Ellington's Mother) played parlor songs.
  • James Ellington (Duke Ellington's Father) played operatic music.

At the age of 7, the young Ellington began studying piano and earned the nickname "Duke".

Duke Became His Nickname

At the age of seven:

  • Ellington began taking piano lessons from Marietta Clinkscales.
  • Ellington's mother, Daisy, surrounded her son with dignified women so he could witness manners and elegance.
  • Ellington’s childhood friends noticed his proper charm and etiquette.
  • Ellington's good friend, Edgar McEntree, gave him the nickname title of "Duke".

Speaking of his friend Edgar McEntree, Ellington stated; "I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title. So he called me Duke."

Duke in the 1940's

Duke Ellington in the Hurricane Club in New York May, 1943
Duke Ellington in the Hurricane Club in New York May, 1943 | Source

Duke In The 1940's

Ellington’s fame rose to great heights in the 1940s.

During that time The Duke composed a plethora of great works, including:

  • "Concerto for Cootie"
  • "Cotton Tail"
  • "Ko-Ko"
  • "It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing"
  • "Sophisticated Lady"
  • "Prelude to a Kiss"
  • "Solitude" and
  • "Satin Doll"

Duke Ellington's career catapulted in 1the 1940's. His concert tours included the Beale Street Auditorium, built in 1899 by Robert Reed Church, Sr. (the first black millionaire in Memphis, Tennessee)

Duke Ellington used talented female vocalists

This talented actress; singing Duke Ellington's great work called "Satin Doll", is portrayed as a vocalist in Duke Ellington's orchestra as they performed on Beale Street in the 1940's.
This talented actress; singing Duke Ellington's great work called "Satin Doll", is portrayed as a vocalist in Duke Ellington's orchestra as they performed on Beale Street in the 1940's. | Source

Ellington Performed On Beale Street

One of the many stops that Duke Ellington made on his concert tours was the Beale Street Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1940's.

The docudrama Take Me Back To Beale (Book II) reenacts the performance of Duke Ellington on world famous Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the movie we see a segregated audience enjoying the sultry, jazz movement of "Satin Doll," one of Duke Ellington's masterpieces.

Duke Ellington on Beale Street Reenacted

Undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians and composers of our day, "Duke" Ellington has made an indelible impact on musical history. The Duke is artistically portrayed in part 2 of the docudrama Take Me Back To Beale.

Duke Ellington acted in many movies, often scoring music for them.

Duke was an actor too

Duke Ellington acted in many movies, often  scoring music for them.  The actor in the right photograph is portraying the legendary composer in the docudrama Take Me Back To Beale (Book II).
Duke Ellington acted in many movies, often scoring music for them. The actor in the right photograph is portraying the legendary composer in the docudrama Take Me Back To Beale (Book II). | Source

Best form of flattery.

Does the actor portraying Duke Ellington resemble the legendary composer?

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Duke Ellington Performed At The Beale Street Auditorium aka "Beale Avenue Auditorium."

Duke Ellington performed at The Beale Street Auditorium, also called Beale Avenue Auditorium.

The Beale Street Auditorium was:

  • Built by Robert Reed Church, Sr. (The first black millionaire in Memphis) in 1899.
  • Originally called "Church's Park and Auditorium"
  • Located on a site of over six acres on Beale Street near Fourth and Turley.
  • Able to seat 2,200 people

The Beale Street Auditorium had the best equipment of the time.  It could seat 2,200 people and cost $50,000 - $80,000.  This was the only venture of its kind in the United States - owned and operated by a person of color for members of his race.
The Beale Street Auditorium had the best equipment of the time. It could seat 2,200 people and cost $50,000 - $80,000. This was the only venture of its kind in the United States - owned and operated by a person of color for members of his race. | Source
Millionaire business leader and philanthropist, Robert Reed Church, Sr., used his own money to purchase a tract of land on Beale Street in 1899 where he built the Beale Street Auditorium
Millionaire business leader and philanthropist, Robert Reed Church, Sr., used his own money to purchase a tract of land on Beale Street in 1899 where he built the Beale Street Auditorium | Source

An Unusual Business Feat For It's Time

Church's Park and Auditorium was built, owned, and managed by Robert R. Church, its founder. Designed as a recreational facility for blacks; who were not allowed in Memphis city parks or auditoriums, Robert Church's venture was thought of as a daring business undertaking. Church's Park and Auditorium was considered to be an unusual business feat for anyone at any time in history.

According to the September 15, 1906 Planter Journal, the auditorium that was built by Robert R. Church:

  • Cost $50,000
  • Was well equipped
  • Had one of the largest stages in the South
  • Was completely furnished with all modern equipment
  • Had a fire-proof curtain
  • Along with the accompanying park, was the most beautiful of its kind in the entire country

Duke Ellington performed on the beautiful landscaped grounds of The Beale Street Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee.
Duke Ellington performed on the beautiful landscaped grounds of The Beale Street Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee. | Source

The Beale Street Auditorium Was Located In Robert R. Church Park On Beale Street

A markerFourth and Beale, Memphis, TN 38103 -
Beale Street & South 4th Street, Memphis, TN 38103, USA
get directions

In 1899 Robert R. Church bought a tract of land and built "Church's Park and Auditorium" which later became known as The Beale Street Auditorium.

World-acclaimed musician Duke Ellington played at The Beale Street Auditorium in the 1940's. The auditorium was built by black millionaire Robert R. Church and was one of the most beautiful and well equipped facilities in the country.

In the 1940's Church's Park and Auditorium was renamed Beale Avenue Auditorium later to be commonly called The Beale Street auditorium.

Duke Ellington and Other Famous Musicians Played On Beale

World-acclaimed musician Duke Ellington played at The Beale Street Auditorium aka Robert R. Church's Park and Auditorium. Other famous artists that performed there included Louis Armstrong, and Cab Calloway, just to name a few.

W. C. Handy, "the father of the blues", was employed as orchestra leader of The Beale Street Auditorium.

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