Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist and bandleader of jazz orchestras. His career spanned over 50 years, leading his orchestra from 1923 until death.
Though widely considered to have been a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Ellington himself embraced the phrase "beyond category" as a "liberating principle," and referred his music to the more general category of "American Music," rather than to a musical genre such as "jazz." Born in Washington, D.C., he was based in New York City from the mid-1920s onwards, and gained a national profile through his orchestra's appearances at the Cotton Club. In the 1930s they toured in Europe.
Some of the musicians who were members of Ellington's orchestra, such as saxophonist Johnny Hodges, are still, in their own right, considered to be among the best players in jazz, but it was Ellington who melded them into the best-known jazz orchestral unit in the history of jazz.