Previously on This Just In… from our music piece on Black History Month:
It’s been said that jazz is America’s only true art form. This legend was one of the pioneers.
Duke Ellington was born in 1899 and died in 1974 from cancer, just a few weeks after his 75th birthday. Ellington led his band from 1923 until his death.
“Duke Ellington influenced millions of people both around the world and at home. He gave American music its own sound for the first time. In his fifty year career, he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East as well as Asia.
“Simply put, Ellington transcends boundaries and fills the world with a treasure trove of music that renews itself through every generation of fans and music-lovers. His legacy continues to live on and will endure for generations to come.”
Our opening tune poses a mystery. Just who is the Satin Doll?
Some local acquaintances tell me the song has to do with this bar on Milwaukee’s north side
Satin Doll’s is run by Doll, whose real name is Minette D. Wilson. She once danced with Duke Ellington and others, and the lounge has pictures posted to prove it.
Cigarette holder which wigs me
Over her shoulder, she digs me.
Out cattin’ that satin doll.
Baby, shall we go out skippin?
Careful, amigo, you’re flippin’,
Speaks Latin that satin doll.
She’s nobody’s fool so I’m playing it cool as can be.
I’ll give it a whirl but I ain’t for no girl catching me,
Telephone numbers well you know,
Doin’ my rhumbas with uno
And that ‘in my Satin Doll.
“Although Ellington originally wrote the melody for ‘Satin Doll,’ in his biography of Billy Strayhorn, Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn, David Hajdu says, ‘Strayhorn fleshed out an Ellington riff sketch with harmony and lyrics …’ and titled it ‘Satin Doll,’ Strayhorn’s pet name for his mother. Strayhorn’s lyrics were not considered commercially viable, and five years later, lyricist and cofounder of Capitol Records, Johnny Mercer wrote new lyrics, resulting in the song we know today.
“Whether the ‘Satin Doll’ is Strayhorn’s mother or not is up for speculation. In the Mercer Ellington/Stanley Dance biography, Duke Ellington in Person: An Intimate Memoir, Mercer suspects Beatrice ‘Evie’ Ellis or Evie Ellington, Duke’s common-law wife, is the mystery woman. Mercer is quoted as saying, ‘… she disclosed that ‘Satin Doll’ was really written for her…’ Mercer then supports her claim saying, ‘…Pop would always be leaving notes in the house addressing her affectionately as Dearest Doll, Darling Doll, and so on.”