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The Lush Life Of Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn (right), spent the majority of his career as a composer and arranger for Duke Ellington (left) and his orchestra.
David Redfern
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Billy Strayhorn (right), spent the majority of his career as a composer and arranger for Duke Ellington (left) and his orchestra.

The fruitful collaboration between Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington is widely known to have brought us such classics as "Take The 'A' Train," "Chelsea Bridge" and "Isfahan." But behind the music, Strayhorn's life and identity were complex.

While composing some of the most harmonically rich jazz of its time — often in Ellington's shadow — Strayhorn was an outlier in that he led an openly gay life as a black man in the 1940s, an era rife with homophobia and racism.

In this episode of Jazz Night In America, hear interviews with Strayhorn's family members and biographer, along with rare archival tape of Strayhorn himself. You'll also hear Strayhorn's music performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, including pianist Johnny O'Neal's rendition of "Lush Life."

Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

Suraya Mohamed is a three-time Peabody Award-winning producer, sound designer and editor. She currently serves as the project manager for Jazz Night In America and is a contributing producer on the Alt.Latino podcast. She also produces NPR's holiday specials package, including Tinsel Tales, Hanukkah Lights, Toast Of The Nation, Pink Martini's Joy To The World: A Holiday Spectacular and most recently Hamilton: A Story Of US. You'll also find her work on the Tiny Desk series as either a producer or engineer.