It’s always nice when a writer can acknowledge some minor connection to the subjects of a blog such as this. In regard to Ellington, I can only say it was a great pleasure to write the article on him featured in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts On File). However, where Mercer is concerned we actually share the same home town of Savannah. Also, as it happens, we are both featured contributors in the travel anthology Literary Savannah.
Numerous celebrations are already underway for both Ellington and Mercer. The Coastal Jazz Association of Savannah will present a Tribute to Duke Ellington April 19 at Armstrong Atlantic State University, and officials of the U.S. Mint and District of Columbia released a coin in honor of the musician in January. It became the first circulating coin to feature an African American as the primary image and therefore an instant collector’s item.
Because his talent had such a formidable impact on different areas of the performing arts, events observing the centennial of his birth can be found any nearly every corner of the United States. These include, from New York City to Hollywood and elsewhere, workshops devoted to a study of his lyrics, concerts showcasing his music, stage revivals, and film festivals. The commemoration in Savannah will culminate on the composer’s birthday with the unveiling of a life-sized bronze statue of Mercer.
Of course life in and of itself it worth celebrating every single day but the current proliferation of wars and genocide in more than forty countries makes it clear that our species hasn’t quite made it to that level of spiritual evolution. So for the time being, why not enjoy ourselves by celebrating those whose creative contributions to humanity one day just might help us get there before we blast the planet to a pile of nuclear waste.
For a different kind of salute to Jazz Appreciation Month, please check out the audio for An Angel for New Orleans