Billy Strayhorn | Out | 15095
Jazz composer, arranger and musician Billy Strayhorn was born on November 29, 1915 in Dayton, Ohio. One of the very few openly gay jazzmen of his (or any) time, he studied at the Pittsburgh Music Institute. He died on May 31, 1967. He found fame through his close friendship and collaboration with the band leader and musician Duke Ellington, and among the many tunes composed by Strayhorn is the evergreen “Take the A Train”.
Strayhorn met Ellington in December 1938, when the musician and his band performed in Pittsburgh. After the show, Strayhorn got Ellington’s attention by telling him how he would have re-arranged his songs –and then, he proceeded to show him. Impressed by the young man’s skills, Ellington invited Strayhorn to meet the band again in New York. It marked the beginning of a collaboration that spanned three decades.
In the 1950s, Strayhorn left Ellington to pursue a solo career, coming out with a few albums and revues. He was also a champion of civil rights: An ally to Martin Luther King, Jr., Strayhorn wrote activist compositions that honored King and his movement, including “King Fit the Battle of Alabama” for the Ellington Orchestra, which was part of the historical revue (and album) My People, released in 1963 and dedicated to King.
A few months before King’s assassination, Strayhorn died from esophageal cancer, at 51. He was in the company of Bill Grove, then his partner of three years. Devastated after hearing the news, Ellington recorded a memorial album, And His Mother Called Him Bill, which included Strayhorn’s beautiful piano balad “Thank You For Everything”, also known as “Lotus Blossom.” Ellington performed the song alone while the rest of his band was packing up, leaving him to reminisce about his creative soul mate, and the timeless music they made together.