The sculpture of Edward Kennedy Ellington at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue is the first monument in New York City dedicated to an African American and the first memorial to Ellington in the United States.
A composer, orchestra conductor, and musician, Duke Ellington played a major role in elevating jazz to the most American of art forms. Colorful, blues-oriented players such as Johnny Hodges and Cootie Williams played with him, helping to shape his style and inspire his compositions. The December 1927 opening at the Cotton Club — the showplace of Harlem speakeasies — put the Duke Ellington Orchestra on the jazz map. With Harlem and the Cotton Club as home base, Ellington began radio broadcasts and recorded for American, English, and French labels. Between 1930 and 1942 he was at his most creative, composing such classics as Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady, In a Sentimental Mood, and Don't Get Around Much Anymore. Increasingly recognized as a major American composer, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.
On July 1, 1997, Robert Graham's Duke Ellington Memorial was unveiled at the northeast corner of Central Park. Politicians, dignitaries, and Harlem neighborhood residents celebrated the culmination of an effort begun in 1979. Pianist Bobby Short conceived the project, headed fundraising efforts, and coordinated the selection of Robert Graham, a major sculptor of public art, to design the memorial. The result is a bronze tableau 25 feet high, with an eight-foot sculpture of Ellington standing next to a grand piano. Supporting Ellington and the piano are three 10-foot columns, each topped with three nude caryatid female figures representing the muses. The monument itself is inside Duke Ellington Circle. The Circle consists of two semicircular plazas that are stepped to form an amphitheater.
110th Street and Fifth Avenue.