The Public School Where The Duke Lives On | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

The Public School Where The Duke Lives On

Play associated audio
Trumpeter Geraldo Marshall and trombonist Johannes Utas, students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, rehearse for their school's 40th anniversary celebration. 
Lauren Migaki/NPR
Trumpeter Geraldo Marshall and trombonist Johannes Utas, students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, rehearse for their school's 40th anniversary celebration. 

Duke Ellington didn't consider himself a jazz musician.

He said he was a musician who played jazz. And what a musician: pianist, bandleader, composer of more than 1,000 songs including standards like "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," "Satin Doll" and "Sophisticated Lady."

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born on this date 115 years ago in Washington, D.C. And it may just be that Ellington lives on most profoundly, every day, at a public arts high school that bears his name. The goal of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts is to give a free arts education to very talented students in the D.C. area — young people who might never have the benefit of private lessons. The school celebrated its own 40th birthday last weekend.

"We have a saying: If you have to be an artist, this is the place to be," says Davey Yarborough, director of jazz studies at Ellington for 30 years.

Most of the students at Ellington are African-American. They had to pass rigorous auditions and interviews to get in — to study not just jazz, but also classical music, dance, drama and visual arts, along with a full academic program. The graduation rate is 99 percent, and 98 percent go to college, some on full scholarships.

Senior Angela Whittaker is going to the Berklee College of Music in Boston next year.

"I knew if I went to this school, I'll come out and be something incredible ... and help me shape myself into something I've always wanted to be," Whittaker says. "And I didn't think I could achieve that. Duke Ellington gave me hope that I actually could."

The school's name itself inspires hope — and, percussionist Kweku Sumbry says, great pride and responsibility.

"Every time we step out of this building, any performance, any competition, we are representing not only ourselves and our family, but Duke Ellington, so that means a lot to me," Sumbry says.

Trumpeter Geraldo Marshall is a junior at Ellington.

"Duke Ellington is probably the greatest composer ever," Marshall says. "It's amazing that someone could get to such a high level. We have big shoes to fill, we have expectations, things that are expected of us. The only way we can get there is through the help of people like Mr. Yarborough and our teachers. Because they guide us down that path. And you actually have to listen to your teachers." He laughs.

Tuesday night, as they do on this date every year, students and faculty at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., will celebrate the great musician's birthday. They'll come together in music and song — which would surely please the Duke.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

After Injury, Tony Little Told Himself: 'You Can Do It!'

The muscle man with the ponytail was once on track to become Mr. America. But a car accident shattered Tony Little's hopes of competing. Just when he hit rock bottom, he got a life-changing idea.
WAMU 88.5

Hops Coming Home: Loudoun County To Add Hop Production Facility

The first commercial-scale hop production and processing facility in the region is being planned out in Loudoun County, further adding to the region's burgeoning beer business.

NPR

Families Feel Sidelined As U.S. Reviews Hostage Policy

The White House is reviewing how it handles hostage crises following the brutal murders of Americans abroad, but families of hostages say they're often left out of the conversation.
NPR

Marine Corps Finds It Tough To Shut Down Sexist Facebook Groups

Female Marines are being humiliated and generally degraded by their peers on Facebook. The groups' pages are frequently shut down, but return within days due to a dedicated following.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.