Duke Ellington was a world-renowned figure when he composed “Harlem” in 1950. He and his band had just completed a European tour, and on the return voyage aboard the “Ile de France”, Ellington had time to turn his attention to this new piece.
There is some confusion about its origins. I was commissioned, according to Ellington’s recollections, by Arturo Toscanini, as part of a “Portrait of New York” Suite. He referred to it as a “concerto grosso for our band and the symphony”, but Toscanini, who was growing old and infirm by this time, never conducted the piece. Ellington’s band recorded it in 1954, and the next year Don Gillis performed it in Carnegie Hall with the Symphony of the Air, the shortlived successor to Toscanini’s NBC Symphony.
Luther Henderson (1919 – 2003) was an African American arranger, composer, orchestrator, and pianist. He was educated at the Juilliard School of Music where he received a B.S. in 1942. Among the more than fifty Broadway musicals where he served as orchestrator and/or arranger and/or musical director and/or composer for are Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, Flower Drum Song, Funny Girl, No, No Nanette, Purlie Victorious, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Jelly’s Last Jam.
Recently Luther Henderson’s widow director-actor Billie Allen established The Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund at Henderson’s alma mater, The Juilliard School of Music. For more information on this scholarship or for more information on Luther Henderson, please visit: http://www.thelutherhendersonscholarshipfund.com