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My People by Duke Ellington – An historic record brought back to life

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Issue 2425
My People by Duke Ellington

My People by Duke Ellington

In 1963, with the Civil Rights Movement in full swing, Duke Ellington made an historic record that history went on to forget. 

But now it has been remastered and reissued with a combination of the original liner notes and excellent historical background.

The legendary jazz composer wanted to celebrate the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed black people from slavery in the American South. 

He produced an epic piece of musical theatre, My People.

He charted the musical styles that made up black American experience—from gospel to blues to jazz. To them he added words that both praised and chastised.

My Mother, My Father is a hymn of praise to the struggles of all those who went before. 

Other songs goad those who had yet to take a place in the struggle against segregation.

The highlight of the album is undoubtedly King Fit the Battle of Alabam. 

Martin Luther King replaces the biblical character of Joshua for a stark attack on the South and its “Walls of Jericho”.

Using an intensely rhythmical structure it recounts the huge and ultimately successful campaign to desegregate the city of Birmingham. 

Many in the movement had previously shunned Ellington for his perceived closeness to the establishment.

Now they welcomed his joining the growing number of artists who were speaking up.

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