Magazine article Out

A Musical Master's Secret

Magazine article Out

A Musical Master's Secret

Article excerpt

Did Duke Ellington take advantage of the immense talent of a collaborator and the homophobia of an era to become a legend?

The fact that you've surely heard of Duke Ellington and probably aren't familiar with Billy Strayhorn says it all. The anonymity of Strayhorn, the man who composed most of Ellington's best-known music, is due to factors that are explored for the first time in a fascinating new documentary, Billy Stray horn: Lush Life, to be telecast this month on PBS's Independent Lens series. Ellington, a born showman, skillfully and repeatedly maneuvered-make that shoved-the demure and compliant Strayhorn into the distant background. Abetting this concealment, in a time and place when it was not only unmentionable but also extremely dangerous, Strayhorn, an African-American, was not only homosexual; he was openly homosexual.

Diminutive in every sense except when it came to his overwhelming talent, Strayhorn had a 29-year collaboration with Ellington that resulted in a vast array of groundbreaking musical works-popular songs, orchestral music, film and theatrical scores, and jazz compositions-that are virtually unparalleled in range and scope. As Lush Life demonstrates with rare documentary footage and interviews with peers, Strayhorn did most of the musical legwork, while Ellington totally eclipsed him at every turn. …

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