Duke Ellington … And More Stories To Celebrate Great Figures In African American History

When I was twelve years old, I discovered jazz. I listened to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and so many other jazz greats who filled my young soul with music that inspired me to live, be, and see the world, but I didn’t know much about their personal histories except what was portrayed in the media and sometimes the media portrayal was quite sensational. It wasn’t until I saw this new DVD that I found out Duke Ellington, the greatest jazz composer, stopped playing piano when he was a child because he didn’t enjoy the music he was playing and the regiment of rigid practice. It was only by chance that he heard a different type of music in his early twenties that compelled him to return to music.

This DVD collection also features the story, Duke Ellington is Not A Street, written by American playwright, poet, Ntozake Shange, who is best known for her Obie winning play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. This version of the story  is narrated by Phylicia Rashad, best known as Claire Huxtable in the long running NBC television show, The Cosby Show, and coincidentally is the first African American woman to win a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, for her role in the revival of A Raisin in the Sun. I purposely mention she is the first African American female to win a Tony in a Lead Role – not because I like to label people, but because it’s important.

Why? Why can’t we just be considered people with no labels of racial identity? In the book, Nutureshock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, they point out the compelling evidence why it is important it is to talk to your children about race – because there is no hiding that the a person may be Black or Asian or Native American, etc. and if you don’t talk to your children about different races, they will pick up racial stereotypes. In an excerpt from the book, which was published in Newsweek Magazine, it highlights a study that shows children as young as 6 months old discriminate based on visual aspects of people. (Sorry if this seems like another thing to worry about as a parent.) What can a parent do? Talk to your children about race and celebrate different cultures. Create a world where stereotypes don’t exist. That is why I appreciate DVDs such as Duke Ellington… And More Stories to Celebrate Great Figures In African American History.

Celebrate African American history with this historic and musical collection of four stories on one DVD. Best-selling picture books are lovingly adapted for the small screen, featuring captivating narration by Forest Whitaker, Phylicia Rashad, Samuel L. Jackson and Billy Dee Williams.

  • Duke Ellington (based on the story by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Bran Pinkney, narrated by Forest Whitaker). A most fitting tribute to a great man who proudly celebrated the history of African-Americans, from slavery to civil rights struggles
  • Ellington Was Not a Street (based on the story by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, narrated by Phylicia Rashad). A poetic tribute about growing up amidst many of the great figures in African American History
  • Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of Vocal Virtuosa (based on the story Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, narrated by Billy Dee Williams). The dramatic story of how Ella got her sound, on the way to a most remarkable and inspiring career.
  • John Henry (based on the story by Julius Lester, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson). Based on the famous African-American folk ballad, this story tells of the legendary contest between a spirited man with a hammer and a steam drill.


Duke Ellington … And More Stories To Celebrate Great Figures In African American History

Street Date: February 1, 2011

DVD SRP: $14.95

Here is a link to the excerpt of Nutureshock: http://www.newsweek.com/2009/09/04/see-baby-discriminate.html

The stage before the show.

I am always in awe of the spectacular musical talents who choose to entertain our children with love, passion, spirit, and fun. That was the energy we experienced at the Broad Stage this past Saturday for their first ever Saturday Morning Mash Ups series. Rachel Worby conducted the Angeli Ensemble with narration by spoken word artists Steve Connell and Sekou “The Misfit” Andrews. The first of the series was Camille Saint-Saen’s The Carnival of the Animals, which featured Lynn Harrell on the cello. The show was an enjoyable dissection of Saint-Saen’s inspiration for the piece – the animals – and how an instrument could take on the sound of an animal – the flute for birds, the bass for an elephant, xylophone for the dinosaur bones, the clarinet for the coo coo bird, and the cello for the swan. Conductor, Rachel Worby demonstrated the can-can with pianist, Gavin Martin, first in regular speed and then in slow motion to visually represent how Saint-Saen used the popular-at-the-time, Can-Can to depict the slow moving turtle. While I was familiar with The Carnival of the Animals and played it for Mishy prior to the concert, this presentation was an educational joy and being present and in the midst of such fun, it didn’t seem like learning – which in my opinion – is the best kind of learning. (Mishy has experienced several magical musical moments – one which was a concert by YoYo Ma at a private residence – and this concert rates as a highlight.)

They have two more upcoming concerts in this year’s series – Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf on Feb. 12th, 2011 at 10Am and 11:30AM, and Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra on Saturday, March 12th at 10Am and 11:30AM. The Broad Stage is located in Santa Monica. It feels like an intimate concert hall where every seat has terrific views of the stage. They also have one of the most comfortable bathroom lounges. Tickets for the concert are $20-$35.



Bonus photo:

Mishy playing outside Broad Stage - after the concert.