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LGBT People Of History Part Eighty Four Billy Strayhorn
Take the "A" Train 1965
Born William Thomas ‘Billy’ Strayhorn on November 29th 1915 in Dayton Ohio, Billy was to become a famous American composer, pianist and arranger. He is best known for his collaboration with the band leader Duke Ellington. This lasted almost three decades.
Billy’s parents moved the family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However his mother sent Billy to live with his grandparents in Hillsborough, North California in order to avoid his father’s drunken sprees.
It was his grandmother’s influence that got Billy in to music as he would play hymns for her on the piano as well as listen to her records on the record player.
He soon returned to Pittsburgh and attended the Westinghouse High School and went on to study classical music at the Pittsburgh Music Institute. At the Institute he wrote ‘a high school musical’ although still in his teens. He also composed his famous works ‘Lush Life’, ‘My Little Brown Book’ and ‘Something to Live For’.
Billy dreamt of becoming a classical composer, though sadly at that time the classical world was notoriously white and the harsh reality of racial prejudice against Billy to enter that world soon smashed his dreams. Absolutely unfair and disgraceful!
At the age of nineteen Billy was introduced to jazz, having worked many jobs to be able to buy his first piano. He was working for a professional musical known as ‘Fantastic Rhythm’.
In 1938 Billy met Duke Ellington in Pittsburgh. It was when Duke returned to New York that he employed Billy to arrange and collaborate with him after being inspired by Billy’s suggestion of a musical arrangement.
Billy was openly gay and met his first partner, Aaron Bridges, in the late 30s. They remained together until Aaron returned to Paris in 1947.
Billy was an activist and close friend of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963 Billy arranged and conducted ‘King Fought the Battle of 'Bam’ for the Ellington Orchestra for a historical revue ‘My People’ that he dedicated to Dr King.
Billy always left a good impression on the many people who met him. He was a good friend and major influence on Lena Horne and helped her career. She reportedly wanted to marry Billy and considered him to have been the love of her life.
Billy was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 1964 that lead to his death in 1967 in the company of his partner Bill Grove. Later his ashes were scattered in the Hudson River by a gathering of his closest friends.
Callum & Ian
With Thanks To Wikipedia.
Here Are Links To The Many More LGBT People Of History Series
- LGBT People Of History Collection
Here are the links to each of the LGBT People Of History hubs that Ian and I have wrote. As mentioned above, each time a new one is published you will find it on here.
- Raiders Of The LGBT Vault - Raiders of the LGBT Vault
Our site brings to light our LGBT History and Biographies Of International LGBT People of the past. Some you will know and some you wont know about. Our aim is to educate and bring the lives of legendary historical LGBT people to light and give insi