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December 5, 1942
Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

December 5, 1942

Guest post by Todd Daily, History MA student at Arizona State University.

This article is a plea for the readers of the New York Amsterdam Star-News to cast their vote for Duke Ellington for a popularity contest sponsored by the magazine DownBeat. At the writing of the article, Ellington was in close competition with Benny Goodman. Ellington had won second place previously, and the reporter was calling the readers to cast a vote, so that Ellington could be in his rightful place “at the top.”

The author gives the readers specific instructions on how to cast their vote. The readers are called to realize “that an Ellington victory will have a double significance.” The lead paragraph hints at the significance of an African-American band winning this recognition for the first time.

DownBeat magazine’s online Hall of Fame does not seem to record the winners of the Readers’ Poll back to 1942. It does, however, show that Duke Ellington won the Readers’ Poll in 1956. Benny Goodman won a year later in 1957.

Duke Ellington composed his first score while working at a soda fountain when he was fifteen years old. Ellington continued as composer, pianist,  and bandleader of a jazz orchestra, although he considered his music to be American music, rather than restricting himself to jazz. He composed over 1,000 songs in his career that spanned almost fifty years.