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Tue, 03.11.1919

Mercer Ellington, Composer, and Arranger born

Mercer Ellington

*Mercer Ellington was born on this date in 1919.  He was a Black musician, composer, and arranger.  Mercer Kennedy Ellington was born in Washington, D.C.  

He was the only child of the composer, pianist, and bandleader Duke Ellington and Edna Thompson.  He grew up primarily in Harlem from the age of eight.  Ellington attended New College for the Education of Teachers at Columbia University, New York University, and the Juilliard School.  In 1939, 1959, and from 1946 through 1949, Ellington led his bands, many of whose members later performed with his father or achieved successful careers in their own right.  Ellington also wrote the lyrics to Hillis Walters' popular song, "Pass Me By" (1946), which was recorded by Lena Horne, Carmen McRae, and Peggy Lee.  

He composed for his father from 1940 until 1941 and later worked as a road manager for Cootie Williams' orchestra (1941 until 1943 and again in 1954). Ellington returned to work for his father, playing alto horn in 1950, and then as general manager and copyist from 1955 until 1959.  In 1960, Ellington became Della Reese's musical director, then later took a radio DJ job in New York for three years beginning in 1962. In 1965, Ellington returned to his father's orchestra, this time as trumpeter and road manager.  When his father died in 1974, Ellington took over the orchestra, traveling on tour to Europe in 1975 and 1977.  (His son Edward Ellington played in the band in the late 1970s. His son Paul Mercer Ellington took it over at a later date.)

In the early 1980s, Ellington became the first conductor for a Broadway musical of his father's music, Sophisticated Ladies, which ran from 1981 until 1983.  Mercer's Digital Duke won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. From 1982 until the early 1990s, the Duke Ellington Orchestra included Barrie Lee Hall, Rocky White, Tommy James, Gregory Charles Royal, J.J. Wiggins, Onzy Matthews, and Shelly Carrol, among others.

His daughter Mercedes was born in 1939 to Ellington and Ruth Batts, to whom he was never married. Ellington was married three times. His first marriage was to Evelyn Walker, with whom he had two children: Gayl Ellington and Edward Ellington II.  Ellington's second marriage was to singer and actress Della Reese in April 1961. The marriage was later annulled in June of that year after it was determined Ellington's previous Mexican divorce was ruled invalid.  His third marriage was to Lene Margrethe Scheid from 1978 until he died in 1996.

Together, Ellington and Scheid had one child, Paul Ellington. Mercer Ellington died of a heart attack on February 8, 1996, at age 76.  His daughter Mercedes Ellington is president of the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts, and his son Paul became the executor of both his and the Duke Ellington estate and kept the Duke Ellington Orchestra alive.  Ellington's eldest grandson, Edward Kennedy Ellington II, is also a musician and maintains a small salaried band known as the Duke Ellington Legacy, which frequently comprises the core of the big band operated by The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts.  

To Become a Musician or Singer

To Become a Conductor or Composer

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