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Billy Strayhorn and Lena Horne | Vintage Photos | PinterestPhoto Credit:The Robert Levi Collection

In Celebration of Black History Month: Billy Strayhorn, Lena Horne and the Civil Rights Movement.

A number of stories exist detailing Billy Strayhorn's involvement in the quest for civil rights, especially in the 1960's. On June 5th, 1963, Billy (along with good friend and musical partner Lena Horne), left from New York to be a part of an event highlighting racial injustice in Jackson, Mississisppi. On June 7th, Lena sang a medley of freedom songs arranged by Strayhorn. She also echoed the words he wrote for her, spoken to and audience of more than 2,500 people at the "Negro" Masonic Temple on Lynch street in Jackson. "The battle being fought here in Jackson, as elsewhere in the South, is our nation's primary crisis. Let it be understood that the courage and grim determination of the Negro people in these cities of the South have challenged the moral integrity of the entire nation".

Read and learn more about the life of Billy Strayhorn in this historically significant month by picking up; 'Lush Life', A Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hadju, and 'Strayhorn; An Illustrated Life' (Agate Publishing). 

In Celebration Of Black History Month: Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and 'My People"

Duke Ellington protested racial inequity through the defiant, proudly African eloquence of his music. Again, in the summer of 1963, a timely new contribution to black consciousness came about in the creation of the stage production "My People". A demonstration of black pride, "My People" was the theatrical attraction of an exhibition entitled "Century Of Negro Progress" at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center and performed in the Arie Crown Theatre. Due to his touring schedule, Ellington left the task of directing the jazz orchestra to Strayhorn. Assisted by pianist Jimmy Jones, the 17 piece ensemble was actually billed as the Billy Strayhorn Orchestra for its summer run. Two Strayhorn arrangements were included in the show, "Strange Feeling" and the novelty number "Purple People". Although it was received somewhat lukewarm by the press at the time, "My People" played its full run to responsive audiences.

Read more about this and other Strayhorn gems in the David Hadju book "Lush Life", A Biography of Billy Strayhorn, and the recently released Strayhorn; An Illustrated Life (Agate Publishing).

New York Celebrates Billy Strayhorn’s Centennial With Special ‘A Train’ Ride

All aboard the A Train! Sunday November 29th, 2015, Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrated the centennial of jazz great Billy Strayhorn with a series of performances — including a surprise pop-up concert on the subway that inspired Strayhorn’s most famous composition, “Take the A Train.”

The MTA unearthed an era-appropriate subway train to run on the A line for the occasion. The train’s passengers were serenaded by the Donald Malloy Quartet and the Evan Sherman Entourage playing a medley of Strayhorn compositions, including "Take the A Train". 

“We celebrate the centennial of Mr. Strayhorn by saluting one of the most meaningful compositions in the jazz canon, as we also salute our public transit system,” Wynton Marsalis, the trumpeter and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, said in a statement.

The celebration is a collaboration between Jazz at Lincoln Center, MTA Music and the New York Transit Museum. Mr. Marsalis played “Take the A Train” on the subway in 1999 during the centennial of Duke Ellington, Strayhorn’s frequent collaborator.

Concerts celebrating Strayhorn followed on Sunday evening at 7:30 and 9:30pm at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. Gale A. Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, presented an official proclamation November 29th as “Billy Strayhorn Day.” 

Billy Strayhorn Legacy shines at 2016 Jazz Education Network Conference (JEN)

Held in Louisville, Kentucky, the 2016 JEN conference bought together 3,000 plus jazz educators, artists and students from middle school to university level to play, learn about and share information on jazz music and history. The 3 day conference included 110 exhibitor booths and over 250 presentations, clinics and performances by a national (and international) contingent of attendees. A highlight of the conference was a presntation done by Berklee College of Music professor and recording artist Jason Yeager titled 'Solo Strayhorn: A Pianistic Perspective', offering insight into Strayhorn's work and methodical approaches towards developing one's own solo piano approach.

Also, the Strayhorn exhibitor booth provided plenty of information about the 2015 Strayhorn Centennial activities, Strayhorn legacy information moving forward, the growing presence of the Billy Strayhorn Foundation and copies of the new book 'Strayhorn, An Illustrated Life'. Special thanks to Alfred Music for providing print charts for numerous Strayhorn titles at their JEN booth.

Looking forward to the 2017 JEN conference to be held in New Orleans !!



Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life, will be the featured exhibit at the New Rochelle Public Library for the month of February, 2016.

The original exhibit of photographs and artifacts tracing the extraordinary career of musician Billy Strayhorn is based on a recently-released book of the same title, Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life, written by A. Alyce Claerbaut and David Schlesinger. In addition to material taken from the book the exhibit features some never-before-seen artifacts from Strayhorn's home, including art work and personal items. Designed by Jesse Sanchez and curated by Leslie Demus, Strayhorn’s niece, and Theresa Kump Leghorn, president of the New Rochelle, New York Council on the Arts, the exhibit celebrates the centennial of the birth of the American jazz composer, pianist, lyricist, and arranger. It was originally displayed in the Museum of Arts and Culture at New Rochelle High School, and was made possible by the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence, the Billy Strayhorn Foundation and the New Rochelle Council on the Arts, with funding from ArtsWestchester.

The award-winning documentary film, Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, will be shown in the library’s Ossie Davis Theater on Sunday, February 21st at 3:00 pm.  Director Robert Levi will introduce the film and answer questions following the viewing. From the 1940s to the 1960s, Billy Strayhorn was one of the forces behind the sound of the renowned Duke Ellington Orchestra. The film tells the story of this pioneering African American composer, arranger and pianist. Strayhorn helped produce a body of work that has no rival in originality and range—from unforgettable tunes and jazz melodies to orchestral suites and soundtracks. He was the sole composer of many classic compositions, including the Ellington theme song, “Take The ‘A’ Train,” and the widely recorded “Lush Life.” Yet at the time of his death in 1967 at age 51 from esophageal cancer, most people were unfamiliar with his musical accomplishments and genius. Today, historians and scholars agree that Billy Strayhorn remains one of the most under-recognized American composers in history.

Glenda Davenport, the popular jazz vocalist, and the Hiroshi Yamazaki Trio will perform at the exhibit reception following the film, at 5:00 pm. The program of standards will include the music of Strayhorn and Ellington. Discovered at the World Famous Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night, Ms. Davenport has performed in such legendary venues as The Village Gate, Birdland and Caramoor. She performs regularly at jazz clubs throughout the tri-state area, and has recorded two CDs: “Sophisticated Lady” and “More Than You Know.”  The free reception is open to the public and is made possible by the Friends of the New Rochelle Public Library.




Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life

The New Strayhorn book is out !!

Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life, is a stunning collection of essays, photographs, and ephemera celebrating Billy Strayhorn, one of the most significant yet under appreciated contributors to 20th century American music. Released in commemoration of Strayhorn's Centennial, this luxurious coffee table book offers intimate details of the composers life from musicians, scholars, and Strayhorn's closest relatives. Perhaps best known for his 28 year collaborative role as Duke Ellingtons "writing and arranging companion", Strayhorn has emerged in recent years as an even more meritorious force in shaping the jazz canon. "Strayhorn" delves into every stage of Billy's career, beginning with his abusive upbringing and early success to later partnerships with Lena Horne and the Copasetics. Rich with insights, the book covers topics such as his music, family, intellectual pursuits, involvement with civil rights and open homosexuality. Featuring contributions from Strayhorn biographer David Hadju, film director Robert Levi, music scholar Walter van de Leur, as well as lush photography and rare memorabilia like hand written scores, this is a book to be treasured by jazz aficionados and music lovers everywhere. Enthralling and visually captivating, "Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life" lauds a beloved jazz legend and captures a prodigious legacy that will influence generations to come.

Click your choice of these online suppliers to order your copy of "Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life" NOW!!


Barnes & Noble

Books a Million

Indie Bound

Agate Publishing



Honoring our Billy Strayhorn 2015 Centennial Honorary Committee for a fantastic centennial year!

Bringing together luminaries from entertainment, education and performing arts, the Billy Strayhorn 2015 Centennial Honorary Committee brought together an impressive list of individuals with a wide array of accomplishments expanding beyond jazz.

The Honorary Chair for the committee was (in memorium), jazz legend Clark Terry. The centennial honorary committee members all shared a vision to contribute to 2015 being a year of celebrating the life and music of the man affectionately known as 'Swee Pea'. To say the least, that vision was accomplished.

To all Honorary Committee Members, THANK YOU for your time and talent to perpetuate the continuing growing legacy of Billy Strayhorn.

The 2015 centennial vision was spearheaded by the Billy Strayhorn Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to celebrate the music and life of composer, arranger, pianist Billy Strayhorn and to develop an appreciation of his music among all people. The Billy Strayhorn Foundation supports this purpose through live music performance, lectures, and symposia.  

The Strayhorn Centennial Honorary Committee, a project of the Billy Strayhorn Foundation, worked with community groups, artists, and performing arts organizations interested in creating events throughout the centennial year of 2015 which explored and expanded the musical legacy of Billy Strayhorn.

Our 2015 Honorary Committee members were;  

Clark Terry, Chair (In Memorium),  National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, educator and highly acclaimed trumpet player and member the great bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Ann Hampton Callaway, Grammy nominated jazz vocalist

Tammy McCann, jazz vocalist, recording artist, music teacher/coach

Mark George, President/CEO Music Institute of Chicago

David Hajdu, award winning Strayhorn biographer

Walter van de Leur, Pd.D., award winning Strayhorn biographer/musicologist

Rob Levi, Emmy/Peabody winning Strayhorn filmmaker/documentarian

John Clayton, Grammy winning co-founder of the Clayton/Hamilton Big Band

Donald Harrison, award winning jazz saxophone player and composer

Ramsey Lewis, Grammy winning jazz pianist and recording artist

Terell Stafford, acclaimed trumpet player and Chair of Jazz Studies- Temple University

Kevin Mahogany, acclaimed jazz vocalist and recording artist

R. Susan Motely, music promoter

Carol Adams, Former President/CEO DuSable Museum of African American History

Herb Jordan, music publisher/writer

Charles McPherson, acclaimed jazz alto saxophone player, recording artist and composer

The Duke Ellington Society of Washington D. C.

Allan Harris, acclaimed jazz vocalist and composer

Alex Webb, MA, Music Department Buckinghamshire New University, United Kingdom

The Duke Ellington Society of Toronto, Canada (TDES 40)

The Duke Ellington Society of the United Kingdom (DESUK)

Vernard Gray, producer, Be Mo Jazz/East River Jazz Project, Washington D.C-Baltimore

Filarmonica Laudamo Messina. Messina, Sicily

Bill Dobbins, Professor of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media. Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Robin Bell-Stevens, Executive Director and CEO, Jazzmobile Inc.

Randy Weston, Jazz Pianist and Composer

New York 1 Online Interview: The Nieces of Billy Strayhorn Talk Life and Times of the Legendary Musician 

Errol Louis discussed the life and times of legendary musician Billy Strayhorn with two of the late composer’s nieces: Alyce Claerbaut, who is the co-editor of the new book, "Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life," and Leslie Demus, who contributed to the book and serves as the president of the Billy Strayhorn Foundation.

Click below to hear this great interview:


Billy Strayhorn honored with Legacy Project Walk of Fame Plaque

The Legacy Project, the world's only Outdoor LGBT museum walk, hdld an outdoor ceremony celebrating the induction of bronze memorials commemorating Leonard Bernstein, Josephine Baker, Rudolf Nureyev and Billy Strayhorn. Chicago's Award-Winning "Legacy Walk" museum streetscape honors the month of October — "LGBT History Month" — and National Coming-Out Day. The event took place Saturday, October 10th, at 3245 North Halsted Avenue in Chicago. 

"The Legacy Walk is the world's only outdoor LGBT museum walk. It is dedicated to raising awareness of LGBT contributions to world history and culture as a means to counter the ignorance which fuels anti-gay bullying. "We are delighted to add these five remarkable plaques to those for Jane Addams, Byard Rustin, Alan Turing and so many others… an extremely moving tribute to an aspect of shared human history that most people aren't aware exists," said Legacy Project Executive Director Victor Salvo. "We hope it will lead to conversations about the importance of inclusiveness, especially for LGBTQ youth who are most often forced to grow up without ever learning anything positive about historically significant people like themselves.



This superb box set celebrating the work of William Thomas Strayhorn echoes the basic paradox of this extraordinary jazz musician’s life and career.

The richness and diversity of the music it contains will delight the most obsessive Strayhorn aficionado; at the same time it offers a thrilling introduction to the man many know only as someone who once played in Duke Ellington’s band and wrote “Take The “A” Train.

The 7 CDs contain material presenting 62 of Strayhorn’s compositions, not only focusing on his work outside of the Ellington orchestra, but also presenting him in Duke’s company.

Billy Strayhorn, the man whose musical abilities could have made him a star in his own right, labored in the shadow of a world-famous benefactor. This collection of his recordings puts him firmly in the spotlight for once, revealing beyond doubt the true scale of the debt owed to him by Duke Ellington in particular and jazz in general.

Billy Strayhorn: Beyond The Peaceful Side.

Alyce Claerbaut is currently the President of Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc.. In her role, she interacts with music publishers, producers and educators, particularly in jazz. Ms. Claerbaut is a Calvin College alumna and was instrumental in helping to bring Duke Ellington to perform in the Calvin Fieldhouse in 1967. Billy Strayhorn’s only solo recording during the Ellington years was a record called “The Peaceful Side” which features him on the piano playing the titles that he considered his favorites. Ms. Claerbaut helps to explore Strayhorn's life through those songs as his expression of who he was. Calvin College welcomed Ms. Claerbaut back to campus as part of their internationally known January Series, selected as the featured speaker on Martin Luther King Day (January 19th, 2015). View this historical presentation below. 




Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. and the Billy Strayhorn Foundation would like to thank all of the musical artists, music educators and jazz advocates who have contributed to the Strayhorn Centennial thru performances, workshops, presentations and all other various forms of tribute that has made this year of honoring Billy Strayhorn a continuing success. We would like to recognize several tributes from our events calendar that took place in the month of December.

*Humbolt State University Jazz Orchestra-California

*University of Indianapolis-Indiana

*Valdosta State University Jazz Ensemble-Georgia

*Conductor Ken Shaphorst, New England Conservatory-Boston

Continue to check our events calendar and PLEASE support the artist and venues in your city that are working so passionately to keep the Strayhorn legacy and Jazz music ALIVE !!!


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