Like every black person in the land of White Supremacy, Duke Ellington had to take out the Green Book when touring the South knowing that hotels—even the ones he performed at—would refuse him lodging and food. Tired of playing that game but wanting to bring his extraordinary music to every State in the Union so that his listeners would achieve a State of Union through his music, he hit on the solution of hiring two Pullman train cars and arranging for them to join various trains. He and the band ate, slept and rehearsed on the train, sidestepping the nonsense of segregation— and inspiring some great tunes about trains in the process!
Like so many musicians, Duke's primary energy was put into his music. But he naturally was aware of racism’s stranglehold on the national psyche and its power to destroy both the hated and the haters. When he did speak out, it was with great elegance and eloquence about both the devastating effects of prejudice and the hopeful possibility of a better world. Here are three telling quotes from his autobiography:
• What is the worst problem in America? Brainwashing of children and adults.
• Of all the walls, the tallest, most invisible, and most insidious… is the wall of prejudice.
• New World A' Coming refers to a future place, on earth, at sea, or in the air, where there will be no
war, no greed, no categorization, and where love is unconditional, and where there is no pronoun
good enough for God.
LISTENING SUGGESTION: The Happy Go Lucky Local to hear his remarkable aural depiction of trains. You might recognize this as an earlier incarnation of the song Night Train.