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Mon, 11.29.1915

Billy Strayhorn, sophisticated composer

Billy Strayhorn

On this date in 1915, Billy Strayhorn was born. He was an African American composer and jazz pianist.

William Thomas Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio, and raised in Hillsborough, North Carolina. He gained most of his schooling, including private piano instruction, in Pittsburgh. He sought out Duke Ellington in 1938, attempting to work with his as a lyricist. Strayhorn introduced himself with his songs "Lush Life" and "Something to Live For." After becoming a regular contributor to the Ellington Orchestra, he contributed themes such as "Day Dream" and "Passion Flower" for the Ellington saxophonist Johnny Hodges. Other tracks that followed were "Take the A Train," "Raincheck," "Chelsea Bridge," and "Johnny Come Lately."

Openly gay and an LGBT activist, Strayhorn and Ellington had a wonderful music-based relationship. Arriving in New York City, the young Strayhorn met jazz pianist Aaron Bridges, and the two lived together as lovers in Harlem for almost 10 years.

Strayhorn came to the world of music with a sophisticated knowledge of chromatic harmony; this gave jazz performers and listeners classic melodies unlike any created before him. From the mid-1950s until his death, he wrote and arranged at a fever pitch, coming out with selections such as "Sweet Thunder," "Suite Thursday," and "Far East suite." Billy Strayhorn died on May 30, 1967.

All That Jazz: The Illustrated Story of Jazz Music
General Editor: Ronald Atkins
Copyright 1996, Carlton Books Limited
ISBN 0-76519-953-X

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