This sculpture, dedicated in 1997, was the first erected in Ellington's honor in the country.
Ellington rose to stardom in the 1920s as a composer, performer, and band leader. He composed more than 2,000 songs over a 50-year career. The campaign to build a memorial to Ellington in New York City began after his death and lasted 18 years. Pianist Bobby Short conceived of the project in 1979, when he began fundraising and selected Robert Graham as its sculptor. After a lengthy decision-making process around the statue’s placement, it was eventually placed in the Park’s grand entrance plaza at its northeast corner.
Ellington is one of four African-American figures honored along Central Park North, along with Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Frederick Douglass. The area is often referred to as “The Gateway to Harlem.”