Black Beauty (1928 song)

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Black Beauty is a 1928 jazz novelty solo stride piano composition by Duke Ellington, written as a musical portrait of singer, dancer, and comedian Florence Mills, an elegy for her after her death in 1927,[1] published by Gotham Music Service.[2] It became one of Ellington's signature songs.


Duke Ellington didn't write much solo piano music, which, for one of the most distinguished composers, arrangers and Big Band leaders, was a bit unusual. There is speculation that it could have been a very personal piece, or that he was trying to cash in on the sheet music craze for Jazz in the Roaring Twenties.[3]


The song is not the usual vibrant, light piano tune of the late 1920s. His original recording has a more bluesy somber sound, a true elegy, as opposed to the Fats Waller tune "Bye, Bye Florence" that was recorded in Camden, New Jersey, on 14 November 1927, featuring Bert Howell on vocals with organ by Waller, which was more in keeping with the popular tunes of the time, and may have been more representative of the singer's public personna, which was light, bubbly and humorous. His big band version and subsequent arrangements have taken on a more upbeat tempo typical of other songs of the period.


Black Beauty has been performed over the years since its composition by a large number of jazz musicians, with notable recordings by:


  1. ^ "Final Curtain," Chicago Defender, November 5, 1927, p. 1; "Florence Mills Dies of Appendicitis", New York Times, November 2, 1927.
  2. ^ "The Black Beauty of Duke Ellington" on YouTube - See Sheet music cover at the header of the video.
  3. ^ "Duke Ellington - Black Beauty (Okeh) - One Week, One Band