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Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra
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Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,322 Ratings  ·  214 Reviews
A swinging, vibrant picture book about the jazz composer Duke Ellington, by the award-winning duo Andrea and Brian Pinkney.
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published March 3rd 1999 by Jump At The Sun (first published March 3rd 1998)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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This is fabulous! The words and the illustrations are as musical as Duke's own compositions, which are "smoother than a hairdo sleeked with pomade" and "spicier than a pot of jambalaya!" I would love to see a Reading Rainbow-type production of this book with snippets of Duke's actual music.

I thought it was interesting that Duke didn't like piano when he was young. He thought it was boring "umpy-dump" music. When he was older, he heard ragtime for the first time and then taught himself to play h
Lisa Vegan
Apr 03, 2010 Lisa Vegan rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lisa by: Luann
It took me awhile to get used to the writing style but it never felt as though it wasn’t a perfect fit for the story. This is a terrific picture book biography about Duke Ellington’s life and music. The illustrations are wonderful; I particularly loved how the music coming out of the instruments is shown via pictures. If readers/listeners aren’t familiar with it, I highly recommend that Duke Ellington’s music be played as an accompaniment. Even 30 second long snippets from iTunes would enhance t ...more
Feb 08, 2012 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Robert by: Michelle Fralinger
It's no wonder this book was recognized as a Caldecott Honor book; the
illustrations are beautiful. They complement the rhythm of the text
very well. This biography is written in a jazzy tone using upbeat
sentence structures and hip language. "He was a smooth-talkin',
slick-steppin', piano-playin' kid."

umpy-dump, left-handed hops and right-handedslides

We learn of Duke Ellington's life in an interesting and entertaining
manner. From his desire to impress the ladies in D.C. to ruling the
roost at the Co
Davina Cuffee
Nov 28, 2011 Davina Cuffee rated it it was amazing
1. Junior Book-Biography

2. This books details the musical life of Duke Ellington. This jazzy read takes you all the way back to his childhood and lets you know how he got started with piano and became “The Paino Prince.”

3a. Illustrations; Language

3b. The scratchboard technique used to create the illustrations were AMAZING! I know it took the illustrator a long time to do these pictures, and I think it was a great way to do illustrations for this biography because it gave an older feeling while k
CH_Emily Scholnik
Jan 30, 2010 CH_Emily Scholnik rated it really liked it
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH; 1st edition (March 3, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0786801786
ISBN-13: 978-0786801787

"He was a smooth-talkin', slick-steppin', piano-playin' kid," "writes master wordsmith Andrea Pinkney in the rhythmic, fluid, swinging prose of this excellent biography for early readers."

Duke Ellington tells of a young boy and his rise to fame in a time of racism. He was a huge part of the "evolution" of Jazz music, which "originates
Feb 16, 2009 Becky rated it really liked it
I loved this picture book biography of Duke Ellington. The illustrations were great--and I'm not alone in thinking that, the book was honored with a Caldecott Honor in 1999. The text was great too. The style was very original--smooth, jazzy, rhythmic. The facts were all there, yes, but they were dressed up nicely by the language, the words she chose to use to tell her story. She's a natural storyteller and it shows.

Here's how it begins,

You ever hear of the jazz-playin' man, the man with the cat
Jan 14, 2013 Dolly rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: parents reading with their children
This book offers a fascinating look into the life of Duke Ellington. The biography provides lots of interesting details, without being overwhelming or boring and the illustrations complement the story nicely. I liked the lyrical, jazz-laced narrative and the flow of the story.

After we read this book, we checked out a few videos of Duke Ellington and his orchestra so our girls could really get a feel for the music of the era and the timeless popularity of some of his songs. We really enjoyed rea
Tiffiny Federico
Although this biography is not told in verse, it is very lyrical and jazzy. The cadence and choice of words resembles the musical soul of Duke Ellington. Just take a listen: “But with practice, all Duke’s fingers rode the piano keys. Duke started to play his own made-up melodies. Whole notes, chords, sharps, and flats. Left-handed hops and right-handed slides. Believe it, man. Duke taught himself to press on the pearlies like nobody else could.”

The story covers Duke’s life from not wanting to pr
Tanner Markle
Title: Duke Ellington
Author: Andrea Pinkney
Illustrator: Brian Pinkney
Genre: Biography (3-5)
Theme(s): Music, Hard work
Opening line/sentence: You ever hear of the jazz-playin man, the man with the cats that could swing with his band?
Brief Book Summary: This book depicts Duke Ellington's life from his start of piano lessons to the peak of his major successes. It looks at the struggles he overcomes throughout his life.
Professional Recommendation/Review #1: Bill Ott (Booklist, June 1 & 15, 1998
I shared this book with my fifth grade students and they really enjoyed it. This picture book biography takes us from Edward Kennedy Ellington's childhood, when he would've rather played baseball than take piano lessons, to his introduction to ragtime music. We follow the start of his career in the clubs of Harlem, most notably the Cotton Club. As more and more people were able to listen to his music on the radio, he became famous across the nation and around the world. The book takes us to the ...more
Kaelyn O'Brien
Dec 08, 2015 Kaelyn O'Brien rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books
This is a story about one the old American composing legends. Duke Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in Washington D.C in the late 1800’s. Growing up as a smooth talking guy Duke didn’t really have a love for the piano when he was younger. He described it as boring “umpy-dump” music. As he grew older he heard ragtime for the first time. Duke became very intrigued by this new creative sound so he then taught himself to play ragtime on the piano. I really enjoyed this book. The way the illustratio ...more
Andrew Upchurch
Dec 06, 2015 Andrew Upchurch rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a story about one of the old American composing legends. Duke Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in Washington D.C in the late 1800’s. Growing up as a smooth talking guy Duke didn’t really have a love for the piano when he was younger. He described it as boring “umpy-dump” music. As he grew older he heard ragtime for the first time. Duke became very intrigued by this new creative sound so he then taught himself to play ragtime on the piano. The music throughout the book is illustrated in ...more
Summer Hemphill
May 11, 2015 Summer Hemphill rated it it was amazing
Shelves: childrens-lit
*Biographical Fiction: Picture Book*

Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Illustrated by Brian Pinkney, this picture book gives readers an informative yet engaging look at the life of Duke Ellington.

Davis chronicles Ellington's early life from childhood, his early career as an aspiring musician, and other aspects of his amazing career. Readers are taken through many of Ellington's real life experiences including the premier of the composition, "Black, Brown, and Beige" at Carnegie Hall.

Through t
Sarah Snow
Feb 08, 2015 Sarah Snow rated it really liked it
This is a biography of the musician Duke Ellington. It starts when Duke begins piano lessons per his mother's wishes. However, Duke is bored of the piano and would rather play baseball; so he quits. When he is older, he picks it back up and starts his journey. This would make a great classroom discussion about giving something or someone a second chance. The book continues on Duke's journey and how one man became an orchestra. It also talks about the meaning behind his music and their ties to th ...more
Kayla Davis
This book is based on the real life accounts of Edward Kennedy Ellington. In Edward’s younger years he detests playing the piano and decides to quit, but later when he discovers ragtime music, he teaches himself how to play and compose and becomes one of the best piano players of all time, earning the name Duke. The main theme of the book is music. This is great book to use to teach K-1st grade students about black history. The book could also be used to discuss the history of music and influent ...more
Nov 20, 2014 Macy added it
This is an lively and vibrant biography of famous jazz pianist Duke Ellington. His story starts from when he was a young boy and hated the piano. It then describes how he soon came to actually feel the rhythm and the notes pop out to him, so he once again took up the piano, this time falling in love. Then the story describes Duke Ellington life as a jazz performer and ends when he formed his actually band, or his " orchestra".

The illustrations in this book are so colorful and vibrant that they a
Emily Holter
Mar 25, 2014 Emily Holter rated it really liked it
This historical fiction book tells about the life of Duke Ellington, a famous jazz musician. Although the book is based on a real person, the stories involved in the book are not all accurate. The young readers will fully enjoy this book as it covers all aspects of music.

All throughout the book, you see and read about multiple instruments, for example; saxophones, drums, pianos, trombones, guitars, and trumpets. This could entice children to get involved more in music. The book really highlights
Shea Lavalier
• Interest Level: Lower Grades
• Reading Level: 5.0
• Guided Reading Level: Q
• Genre: Picture Books
• Support for the genre: The story uses illustrations to help tell about Duke Ellington’s childhood and life achievement.
• Additional Genres: Biography

Duke Ellington started out playing music as a child, but then wasn’t inspired until he heard someone playing ragtime music. Duke started a band the Washingtonians that grew and grew in popularity. Duke even ended up playing at Carnegie Hall m
Grace Livengood
Pinkney, A. D., & Pinkney, J. B. (n.d.). Duke Ellington: The piano prince and his orchestra.
Due Ellington grew up in a musical house, but was resistant to learning something like the piano until he was old enough to appreciate the music it could make. He learned how to play the piano then and dreamed of directing his own orchestra, which with a lot of hard, work, ended up doing. Even during the time of inequality, Ellington's talents were something so spectacular that everyone wanted to list
Nicole Gustafson
This biography was about Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. He was born on April 29th, 1899 in Washington D.C. The first time Duke started playing piano it was too ragtime music. This autodidact started playing compositions at the age of 19 and his smooth transitions and flawless performances made him a hit at parties, pool halls, and country clubs. The books transitions to 1920 in Harlem where jazz music was all the rage, at this time Duke has a small band called the Washintonians. His band start ...more
April Poulter
Feb 05, 2014 April Poulter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: february
The best way that I can describe this book is colorful and I don't mean that in a derogatory or crude way. This is a fabulous book with bright, bold artwork and rich, poetic words. The words alone are enough to create a vivid picture in your mind but there are actual illustrations that do the author's words justice. My favorite part about the book was the way that it described things. Some of my favorite phrases were:
"Left-handed hops and right-handed slides."
"Curling notes like a kite tail."
Rashanda Ravenel
Jul 15, 2014 Rashanda Ravenel rated it it was amazing
So, I took piano my first year in high school;I thought it would be so much fun because I love music. It turned out to be the worst mistake ever as a freshman just entering school. My teacher was so mean and so strict, with no patience. I definitely had those feelings of frustration and anxiety that we associated with Dual Language Learners. So, I ended up dropping the class. I still have little knowledge of playing the piano, but at least my desire to learn is still present. I would use this as ...more
Jennifer Walizer
The Caldecott award winning biography of Duke Ellington by Andea Pinkney is a step by step of the progress Ellington made throughout his life and his career as a musician. It is beautifully illustrated and truly paints the colors of the music Ellington played as the author describes in the book. It also describes his band mates briefly. It discusses the importance that they had in his life and career.

Classroom Connection:
This biography could be used in a classroom in several ways. It is
Rachel Anne  Boody
Feb 23, 2015 Rachel Anne Boody rated it really liked it
Shelves: 14-music
I really enjoyed reading this book all about Duke Ellington and his amazing musical abilities!! It was beautifully illustrated and gave a wonderful background about his life and how he became such a famous & talented musician. I will definitely use this children's book while teaching about music and developing our talents in order to perform and help others appreciate music. I will also focus on the illustration and talk about how art has an amazing way of adding color to the words that we r ...more
Kate Reilly
Feb 02, 2014 Kate Reilly rated it it was amazing
Edward Kennedy Ellington, otherwise known as "Duke" was one of the forerunners in the evolution of jazz music. He composed and played swing music, which is a form of jazz music. He started with the piano and at first the music didn't sound good, but after a while, he became good and started to make up his own melodies. At 19 he started playing at various clubs and parties. He went on to form a band that played all over DC but soon began playing in NYC. His band, the Washingtonians was soon asked ...more
Ashley Snarr
Nov 04, 2014 Ashley Snarr rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this story. The illustrations were different from the clear, smooth pictures I am used to, but I think the smeared lines helped add to Duke's life-story. I learned quite a bit about Duke Ellington and his music, but I do not think the book held too much information for a young child. I believe a child would stay interested and enjoy the story about his life and music. I loved how he talked about it being the music of his people, and the author did a wonderful job of showing that in her ...more
Caitlin Lichtenberg
Feb 05, 2014 Caitlin Lichtenberg rated it really liked it
Shelves: february
I loved the feel of this book. The pictures were enthralling, especially after realizing how difficult it was to make them. They seemed very indicative of the type of music the book was discussing. The language made me feel like I was back in that time period. Things like "folks," and "sit pretty," and "daddy-o" made me laugh and really get into the theme of the work. The phrases that described Duke's music were beautiful and fun! The music itself in the story practically came to life as another ...more
Sapphire Moosman
Feb 26, 2015 Sapphire Moosman rated it really liked it
I was a curious but reserved while starting this book. I like most music, but jazz is not one of my favorites. I was in for a pleasant surprise. The artwork is beautiful and distinct, made out of hand made scratch paper. The unique art combined with the bright color used makes the entire book a festival of colors for the eyes.

But it is the words that are truly wonderful. Pinkney has such powerful and colorful metaphors to describe everything from the people to stories. Allowing you to "picture"
Daniel Markowski
Dec 14, 2015 Daniel Markowski rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bonnie Stohel
Feb 10, 2015 Bonnie Stohel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
This was such a fun book! I can easily see how it won the Caldecott, the illustrations are absolutely fantastic and the word choice that the author uses easily mimics the sound of ragtime and jazz. He uses swanky words to try and
convey the feeling of life at that time and the feeling of Ellington’s music.

They don’t convey a lot of Ellington’s life outside of his music, but since that is the purpose of the book I think they do it really well. They talk about his rise to fame, what his music was
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Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 20 books for children, including the Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book Duke Ellington, illustrated by Brian Pinkney; Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and winner of the Carter G. Woodson Award; and Alvin Ailey, a Parenting Publication Gold medal winne ...more
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