In Celebration of Billy Strayhorn

2016 marks the 49th year since Billy Strayhorn passed away. 2015 was the centennial of his birth. Jazz at Lincoln Center has been conducting a two-year celebration-- from 2016-2016 -- of his life topped off with a concert, Lush Life: Celebrating Billy Strayhorn, led by Wynton Marsalis.

It is very appropriate way to celebrate Billy Strayhorn's life because it has not had much public exposure. Billy Strayhorn was an iconic, gifted, talented creative genius. He was a pianist, lyricist and composer who could have had a stellar career as a solo artist. However, instead worked to create some timeless masterpieces in partnership with mentor turned collaborator Duke Ellington. Strayhorn was also much beloved by fellow creative artists, many felt he was very special, was a friend.

Strayhorn's most famous and most readily recognizable composition is "Take the A Train," but his extensive repertoire includes many musical creations that have become standards, including, "A Flower is a Lonely Thing," Chelsea Bridge," "My Little Brown Book," Lush Life," "Lotus Blossom," and "Something to Live For," which by Strayhorn when he was 16 years of age and was Ella Fitzgerald's favorite song.

Although many of Billy Strayhorn's compositions have been heard often over the years, they are usually associated with Duke Ellington rather than Strayhorn. However, when he started collaborating with Ellington, his creative works were the spark that Duke needed for his musical production. Strayhorn though, was more focused on creating, rather than being out front in the limelight. When he felt it necessary, however, he confidently and forthrightly stood up and protected his creations.

Billy Strayhorn had a very special creative relationship with Duke Ellington. Duke thought highly of Strayhorn who was a shy, creative 24-year old when he first met him. After Strayhorn passed it became evident how Ellington felt when he wrote And His Mother Called Him Bill, which is considered one of his finest works.

Billy Holiday popularized the song "God Bless the Child. Billy Strayhorn was blessed, and we are too by his incomparable talent and the masterful body of work he created and shared with us.

About Billy Strayhorn

Lush Life --Biography
Lush Life -- Oscar Award Winning Film -- Independent Lens, PBS, About the life and music of Billy Strayhorn
Biography -- Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn

The Strayhorn Foundation
Legacy: The Celebration and Preservation of His Work

"The Billy Strayhorn Foundation, Inc. exists to celebrate the music and life of composer, arranger, and pianist Billy Strayhorn and to develop an appreciation of his music among all people."-- Billy Strayhorn Foundation

©L'cinda Scott-McCall