25 Duke Ellington Quotes From The Music Legend

Celebrate the accomplishments of one of America’s best musicians with our Duke Ellington quotes. 

Duke Ellington’s legacy is cemented as one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century. 

Find out what makes him so special with our Duke Ellington quotes below. 

Who was Duke Ellington?

Duke Ellington was an American Jazz pianist, composer, and orchestra leader. 

He was born in Washington, DC, and his career bloomed in Harlem, New York, during the roaring 20s. 

Check out these interesting Duke Ellington facts below:

  • Many of Ellington’s pieces have become jazz standards. 
  • Duke wrote or collaborated on over one thousand compositions. 
  • His catalog is the largest body of recorded compositions of any artist ever. 

Duke Ellington’s impact on American culture

Duke Ellington’s impact on American and world culture is undeniable. 

People remember him for his music, but Ellington was passionate about civil and human rights

He refused to play for segregated audiences and included non-segregation clauses in his contracts.

When asked about it, he would tell the press that he was committed to “the fight for first-class citizenship.” 

Ellington used his influence to fight against racist beliefs that African Americans were inferior. 

His creative genius forced naysayers to acknowledge the beauty of African American culture and art. 

Ellington played with a diverse catalog of artists

His music was so wide-ranging that it forced racist venues to overlook racist policies.

He would boycott theaters that did not allow African and European Americans to work together or watch performances in the same section. 

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Ellington broke tremendous ground as an artist

Duke Ellington was open to complex topics. 

Songs such as Black and Tan Fantasy challenged what racist critics called jungle music. 

In the eighties, the artist Prince was acknowledged for his brilliance in Purple Rain.

He wrote an album and then a movie based on the album. 

Many decades before Prince made this accomplishment. Ellington created Black and Tan Fantasy as a fusion of sacred and secular black culture. 

The film combined the speaking tradition of black preachers with the humor of life for African Americans. 

To learn more, check out our Duke Ellington quotes below. 

Short Duke Ellington quotes defining music

How do you define what music is? The Duke answers this question below. 

1. “Nature is music.” — Duke Ellington 

2. “The sea is music.” — Duke Ellington 

3. “The wind is music.” — Duke Ellington 

4. “Music is everything.” — Duke Ellington 

5. “What is music to you?” — Duke Ellington 

The best Duke Ellington quotes about the power of music

Who better to explain music than the master musician?

6. “Music is the oldest entity.” — Duke Ellington 

7. “What would you be without music?” — Duke Ellington 

8. “Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one.” — Duke Ellington 

9. “The rain drumming on the roof and the storm raging in the sky are music.” — Duke Ellington 

10. “The scope of music is immense and infinite. It is the ‘Esperanto’ of the world.” — Duke Ellington 

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The top Duke Ellington quotes about sounds

Duke Ellington pioneered how the world consumed music. 

11. “A goal is a dream with a finish line.” — Duke Ellington 

12. “I never had much interest in the piano.” — Duke Ellington 

13. “There is nothing to keeping a band together.” — Duke Ellington 

14. “If it sounds good and feels good, then it is good!” — Duke Ellington 

15. “You simply have to have a gimmick, and the gimmick I use is to pay them money!” — Duke Ellington 

Famous Duke Ellington quotes about life

Below, Duke gives us some of the wisdom he got from a legendary music career. 

16. “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” — Duke Ellington

17. “Put it this way: Jazz is a good barometer of freedom.” — Duke Ellington

18. “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” — Duke Ellington

19. “Music, of course, is what I hear and something that I more or less live by.” — Duke Ellington

20. “There are two rules in life: Number one, never quit. Number two,  never forget rule number one.” — Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington quotes and sayings about how to stay inspired

We close our list with these thoughtful quotes from Duke Ellington. 

21. “It’s not an occupation or profession; it’s a compulsion.” — Duke Ellington 

22. “Everyone prays in their own language, and there is no language that God does not understand.” — Duke Ellington

23. “In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence.” — Duke Ellington

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24. “I realized that every time I played, a girl would appear on the piano bench to my left and another to my right.” — Duke Ellington

25. “Jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.” — Duke Ellington

Giving props to a legend

You might be surprised, but many of the songs you love today can be traced back to the Duke! 

Thousands of hip-hop, jazz, r&b, rock, and country songs have sampled Duke Ellington. 

What is your favorite Duke Ellington song?

Be sure to let us know in the comments. 

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