Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) was a jazz pianist, composer, and arranger who was the long-time professional partner of Duke Ellington. He wrote standards such as “Take the A Train”, “Satin Doll”, “Chelsea Bridge” and “Lush Life.” Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio and soon moved with his family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent a lot of time in Hillsborough, North Carolina with his grandparents where he would play hymns for his grandmother as a child. Back in Pittsburgh, he attended Westinghouse High School then went on to study classical music at the Pittsburgh Music Institute. Although he desired to have a career in classical music, the social expectations of the time discouraged Strayhorn, a Black man, from following his dreams. He was then introduced to the jazz piano of Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. This set his course into the world of jazz, and he never looked back. In 1938, Strayhorn met Duke Ellington after Ellington performed in Pittsburgh. After the show, he was bold enough to sit at the piano and show Ellington how he would have arranged one of Ellington’s own tunes right on the spot.  Ellington was so impressed that he arranged for the young Strayhorn to travel to New York for other band members to hear him. Strayhorn became Ellington’s arranger and pianist for the next quarter-century. In 1964, Billy Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and succumbed to the disease on May 1, 1967.


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