Billy Strayhorn

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It's Black History Month, and on WRTI we're looking closely at bandleader, composer, and pianist Duke Ellington, who wrote over 1,700 songs, as well as longer orchestral suites and film scores. In this interview from 2013, WRTI's Susan Lewis speaks with biographer and blogger Terry Teachout, author of Duke, A Life of Duke Ellington.

Credit: William Gottlieb / Adam Cuerden

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.

In 1964, near the end of his career, Billy Strayhorn accompanied himself on a live recording of one of his best-known songs. It starts:

I used to visit all the very gay places

Those come-what-may places

Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life

To get the feel of life

From jazz and cocktails ...

Billy Strayhorn In Five Songs

Nov 29, 2015

A Queerly Cool Jazz Festival in Philadelphia

Sep 15, 2014

The William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia first imagined the nation’s first LGBT Jazz Festival last year. And over the course of the year, the city, and the city’s jazz community - including the Philadelphia Jazz Project and Ars Nova Workshop - signed on.

He stood five feet, two inches tall, and his musical colleagues dubbed him “Swee’ Pea,” after the little character in the Popeye cartoons. But Billy Strayhorn ranked with the giants that composed enduring standard popular music. He was also nobody’s cartoon character. The handle was a reverent tease, applied by Strayhorn’s musical associates in the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Composer Johnny Mandel shares birthday honors with Billy Strayhorn this week. We'll hear a sampling of their songs this Sunday, November 25th at 7 pm. Billy is best known for his sophisticated works, mostly with Duke Ellington (Take the "A" Train, Lush Life, etc.) and Johnny for his movie scores (I Want To Live and Americanization Of Emily). Join us for exciting Big Band interpretations!