Location: 110th Street and Fifth Avenue
Artist/Designer: Robert Graham
Materials: Bronze; gold leaf under piano
Funding: Duke Ellington Memorial Fund, led by Bobby Short
Duke Ellington, the renowned composer and bandleader, was the first African-American to be memorialized in public art in New York City. The late jazz singer Bobby Short spearheaded the fund-raising effort to pay homage to Ellington, who helped make American music, namely jazz, an international phenomenon. Ellington was a regular performer at Harlem’s Cotton Club, a venue that helped to establish the neighborhood as a vibrant jazz center. As was typical in the 1920s and 1930s, the Cotton Club was segregated; the players were mostly black, while the patrons were exclusively white. Ellington often drew his inspiration from the African-American experience, creating such classics as Sophisticated Lady, Mood Indigo, Satin Doll, and It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.
Sculptor Robert Graham depicted Ellington at his piano, which is held aloft by nine muses. This is a monumental grouping: Ellington is 8 feet tall, and the entire sculpture rises 30 feet. Located at the northeast corner of Central Park, this statue serves as a gateway between Spanish Harlem and the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
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