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

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  2,909 Ratings  ·  281 Reviews
Hailed as the "King of the Keys," most people called his music jazz, but Duke Ellington said it was "the music of my people." A most fitting tribute to a great man who proudly celebrated the history of African-Americans, from slavery to civil rights struggles. Brian Pinkney's artwork swings and sways in a reflection of Ellington's music.
Paperback, 32 pages
Published September 1st 1999 by Scholastic, Inc. (first published March 3rd 1998)
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Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The husband and wife duo of Andrea Davis Pinkney, text, and Brian Pinkney, illustrations, has produced a delightful book on the Duke, Duke Ellington that is.

Born in 1899, Edward Kennedy Ellington said as a young boy, 'Hey, call me Duke'. And so they did - fittingly as it turned out. At the time he was a smooth talking, slick stepping, piano playing kid, which was something of a turnabout for when even younger when his folks wanted him to have piano lessons, he was more interested in playing base
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
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
Apr 11, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pb-biography
I liked the artwork, described as prepared as scratchboard renderings with luma dyes, gouache, and oil paint. The illustrations are colorful, energetic, and I think depict the time period very well. I liked that he depicted the music as curlicues erupting from the various instruments. This is the same illustrator who did the artwork for The Faithful Friend.
Lovely and rich illustrations combined with the text to introduce children to Duke Ellington and his music.
Lyrical text and bold artwork tell the story of Duke Ellington's life and music career in this biographical picture book.
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 celebrates the artistry of this famous man and his orchestra.

The illustrations, "prepared as scratchboard renderings with luma dyes, gouache, and oil paint", complement the story nicely. I really liked the lyrical, jazz-laced narrative and the flow of the story.

Additional biographical information, along with sources for further insight
Feb 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Davina Cuffee
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
CH_Emily Scholnik
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
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First book Wesley brought home from school...
Grace Noto
Title: Duke Ellington
Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrator: Brian Pinkney
Genre: biography
Theme(s): music, biography, jazz, civil rights, American history
Opening line/sentence: “His name was Duke.”
Brief book summary: A biography of the famous jazz musician Duke Ellington who proudly celebrated the history of African-Americans, from slavery to civil rights struggles.

Professional Recommendation/Review #1:
Name of reviewer: Susie Wild
Name of Source: CLCD, Children’s Literature
Kiah Albritton
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: exam-1
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra is a Coretta Scott King Award winning and Caldecott Honor picture book. This was my first read of the book; it was beautifully illustrated and filled with interesting biographical information on Duke Ellington. I found a rhythmic cadence to the text as a I read the book aloud, which made it even more enjoyable. The book is intended for early elementary audiences. Although it is no ...more
Taylor Rench
This book focuses on Duke Ellington's life and his upcoming in the music industry. It starts off by telling the reader that, when he was younger, Duke was more interested in playing baseball than he was with playing the piano. When he was older, he heard a man playing the piano beautifully, and decided to take it back up. After he practiced, he became very talented at playing the piano and started to play in prestigious night clubs. He then starts a band that played all over Washington D.C. and ...more
I just finished reading the Pinkney's "Duke Ellington" to a first grade class in our predominantly white rural school northeast of Seattle. Being trained as a musician, but now working as a librarian, I loved the way this text really swings. When I noticed much of the slang was going over the heads of the children, I'd ask them if they knew what certain words meant. Interestingly, the one African-American girl in the class was hip to most of the jive.

Sure some of the terminology went right past
Katie Lanier
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This biography picture book about Duke Ellington’s life and music provides interesting details without being overwhelming or boring. I'm not surprised that this book was recognized as a Caldecott Honor book; the illustrations complement the rhythmic story in a vibrant and beautiful way. With this book containing complex sentences and slang words from a different time period, younger children may have a harder time understanding the content on their own. However, with help from an adult reading t ...more
Darin Johnston
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
The King of Keys. Piano Prince. The Duke.

All were used to describe Edward Kennedy Ellington, or as we know him, Duke Ellington. He was born in 1899 and it seemed like was surrounded by music. He started piano lessons at a young age, but was quickly turned off by the boring rhythms that were played. However, years later, he heard those same rhythms, but put to a different beat, ragtime. This was the music that set Duke to the piano for the rest of his life. Soon, he was playing, first solo, then
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This is the biography of Duke Ellington or the "Piano Prince" and how he impacted the world of jazz through his influential compositions and talented orchestra.


This is a fabulous book with complex sentences, high vocabulary, and intricate pictures to match. Additionally, the writing in the book is extremely descriptive with sentences such as, "Duke could blend red-hot blips with a purple dash of brass from the trumpet section."

Teaching Tips

This would be a good choice for teache
Hope McCabe
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life
1. Awards: Coretta Scott King Award, ALA Notable Children’s Book (1999), Caldecott Honor Book (1999)
2. Kindergarten—4th grade
3. This short biography of Duke Ellington expands on his music career. Duke Ellington is one of the biggest names in jazz. This bright and lively picture book brings light to his life as a musician.
4. I find music to be a fascinating and engaging subject, and I think it has a great effect on the minds of students. Learning about one of the most influential people in music
Marissa Steeves
This non-fiction Biography about Duke Ellington shows an interesting analysis of his life and achievements. At first he did not enjoy the sounds of the piano or lessons his parents made him take, but discovered a love for jazz music later in life. This book also focuses on his performance "Black, Brown, and Beige" which celebrated African-American history and triumphs. He made a significant cultural influence on not only music, but people's understanding of diverse struggles. Andrea and Brian Pi ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life-stories
Title: Duke Ellington: the piano prince and his orchestra
Award: Caldecott honor, Coretta Scott King Award
Appropriate grade levels: 2nd- 5th grade
Summary: This book goes through the life of Duke Ellington, as a child he learned to play the piano. This led to his love of music and would start to play music for people. A she continued on in life he began to play with his band in Harlem and became famous for his piano playing.
Review: I would give this book a 5, I found it very informative about Du
Maria Rowe
• 1999 Caldecott Honor Book •

I love the art in this book! It's so vibrant and colorful, and almost looks likes it's moving on the page. Really interesting that Duke Ellington didn't like taking piano lessons when he was younger and didn't get back into piano playing until he discovered ragtime.

Materials used: scratchboard renderings with luma dyes, gouache & oil paint
Typeface used: 16-point Cochin
Stefanie Burns
Rich, descriptive vocabulary make up this interesting story about Duke Ellington. The phrases are fun and will facilitate some great conversations between child reader and adult. The illustrations are just as inventive and engaging as the text. The information section at the back gives more facts and expands on the story. Recommended.
Emily Marine
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a non-fiction biography about the life of Duke Ellington. I gave this 5 stars. I really liked the illustrations in this picture book, I felt as though they gave the book more life. This is great for kids to learn about the life of a musician by text and pictures. This would be good for a third and forth grade, but would be good for a first and up read aloud.
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, nyc
I thought both the text and the illustrations described the music of Duke and his orchestra well. The text used a lot of movement-related words to described the music, and the illustrations conveyed that movement.

I also really liked the tone of the book and thought it went well with the jazz topic.
Samantha DeVoir
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love this! This book is a great read full of good information on both Duke Ellington and music (though limited on the latter). The illustrations are on point, and after the story there is a short biography as well as a bibliography so you not only know the book was well-researched, but you can look into those books for further reading for yourself. Fun for kids and parents!
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book because it told of Duke's life in a fun way with a lot of rich and figurative language. This would be a great book to introduce students to figurative language such as smilies, metaphors, personification, etc. while learning about the history of Duke Ellington and how he became a well-known African-American musician.
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: picture-books
BEAUTIFUL illustrations that perfectly complement the fun rhythmic story. The illustrations put the music into images, and really make early 20th century Harlem come alive and seem vibrant and exciting.
Abbie Gerig
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: children-lit
Genre: Biography
Grades: 3-5

I liked this book so much that I read it a second time! I really like the stories of hard work and passion and where those two things can get you in life. This book in particular made me wish I continued with my piano lessons when I was in fourth grade. Who knows how I could have been now?
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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
More about Andrea Davis Pinkney