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Classiscsonline Home » Composers » S » Strayhorn, Billy



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Billy Strayhorn (11/19/1915 - 5/31/1967)

Billy Strayhorn was privileged to enjoy a classical musical education despite his disadvantaged childhood. While still in high school he wrote a revue that became a full-blown touring production starring the yet unknown Billy Eckstine.

In 1938 Strayhorn met Duke Ellington who immediately hired him. The following year they recorded their first collaboration, “Something to Live For,” with Strayhorn on piano. In 1941, following Duke’s written subway directions to his house, Strayhorn composed and wrote the lyrics to “Take the A Train” which became the band’s theme song. He worked as arranger, composer and second pianist for Ellington until his death, which left Ellington devastated. Their telepathic relationship makes it difficult to decipher where one begins and the other ends in their collaborations. “Swee’ Pea,” as Ellington called him, thrived in the Duke’s shadow where he found the security to vent his musical gifts and cultivate his artistic interests.

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