Thursday, 16 February 2017

Red, white and the blues...

A real piece of Ellington history is presently for sale on Ebay here. Of this unpublished autographed letter, the vendor writes:

Ellington, Duke. (1899-1974)

"I'm Brown but I'm Red, White & Blue" - Unpublished Autograph Song Manuscript
Original autograph musical manuscript in Duke Ellington's hand for a patriotic song titled "I'm Brown But I'm Red White & Blue," written out in pencil with a simple piano accompaniment. The lyrics read: "Say I'm Brown but I'm Red White & Blue / My folks are patriots thru and thru  / Why we've got lots of pride and we'll fight for our side / Cause we're Brown and We're Red White and Blue." This unpublished and unrecorded song, likely dating from the World War II era, shows Duke's pride in both his race and his country. 1 p. on manuscript paper; light toning and one very small tear to the right edge; easily legible and overall in very fine condition. 9.5 x 12.5 inches (24.2 x 31.8 cm).  Provenance: Duke Ellington Estate.

And from Leonard Feather's book, The Jazz Years: Earwitness to an Era (p.64), describing the first performance of Black, Brown and Beige, which took place at Rye High School on 22 January 1943, the night before its Carnegie Hall premiere: 

"We were all stunned by the brilliance of Duke's 'tone parallel to the history of the American Negro,' as he subtitled it. Most of us had just one reservation: towards the end of the 'Beige' movement, Duke had written a lyric, pompously delivered by Jimmy Britton, declaring that: 'We're black, brown and beige but we're red, white and blue.' Such simplistic flag-waving seemed redundant, but I had already found out that Duke was stubborn about clinging to his convictions. Only after [talent agent] Bill [William] Morris, Dr. [J.T.] Mize [head of the music department at Rye High School], Dan James [Ruth Ellington's husband] and I had expressed our feelings strongly was it agreed that Duke did not meed to wear his Americanism on his sleeve. The lyrics were eliminated and 'B, B & B' ran forty-eight instead of fifty minutes the next night."

(With thanks to the eminent Ellington researcher who pointed me in the direction of this reference)

Six and a half thousand dollars is a little beyond my pocket (!), so the photographs will have to do...

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