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LGBT People Of History Part Eighty Four Billy Strayhorn

Updated on April 22, 2012

Take the "A" Train 1965

Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn | Source
Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn | Source
Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn | Source

Billy Strayhorn

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.

LGBT People Of History Archive
LGBT People Of History Archive | Source
LGBT People Of History Website
LGBT People Of History Website | Source


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    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Calpol said 100s - more like 1000s we are going to do, mega1!!

      Thank you for the lovely comment.


    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      Thank you Mega1

      I honestly dont think it will end to be honest we have 100s of people to bring to you all x

      Thanks again xx

      Calpol x

    • mega1 profile image

      mega1 6 years ago

      I didn't even know who wrote Take The A Train - lovely series you've got going - may it never, ever, end!

    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      Thank you Michele - He really was fantastic and a musical legend x Your very true though Dr kings work shall never be in vain he is an inspirational to us all. x

      I always look forward to your comments, thank you again x

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 6 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Another amazing hub. His music was ( sorry I keep saying this word) fantastic. I do not remember when Martin Luther King was murdered, I was one year old, but it will remain a part of history that will not be forgotten. Also, his speech and what he lived for, those things will never have been done in vain.

    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      Thank you so much Dexter, I really did not know about Billy Strayhorn until Ian showed me his name but once I began researching him, "What a great man he was" I really have enjoyed learning about this man and I love his music now have even downloaded some of it. Such a waste that he died so early too, a musical genius and a brilliant man. x

      I also loved DR King his 'I have a dream' speech and his work even now, is so inspiring :)

      Thank you so much Dexter x

      A thousand thank you's Dexter

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Thankyou, Dexter! The people you name in your comment indeed are special especially Dr King. And so are you!

      I can still remember exactly what I was doing the day Dr King was murdered. It was one of those truly global awful moments.



    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 6 years ago from United States

      Hello guys! Billy Strayhorn was a musical genius in my opinion. His work with Duke Ellington was amazing. What really makes me proud is that people like Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Dr. King accepted him and other gay men for their artistry and intelligence, looking past sexual preference.

      Another great hub! The both of you have so much to be proud of with this series and your research! Bravo!

    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      I do too x

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      I love the music - quite a guy!



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