Friday, May 27, 1983

50 years ago: Duke Ellington charted with “Sophisticated Lady”

Sophisticated Lady

Duke Ellington

Writer(s): Duke Ellington (music), Mitchell Parish and Irving Mills (words) (see lyrics here)


Recorded: February 15, 1933


First Charted: May 27, 1933


Peak: 3 US, 12 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 1.8 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Duke Ellington initially recorded “Sophisticated Lady” as an instrumental in 1933. It is “a classic example of early Duke Ellington balladry…[that] features…lush ensemble scoring.” JS The song was inspired by three of his grade school teachers from his Washington D.C. neighborhood. He said, “They taught all winter and toured Europe in the summer. To me that spelled sophistication.” AJ George Gershwin was “one of the song’s early admirers.” SS

The song grew out of a practice riff played by Lawrence Brown with contributions from fellow trombonist Sam Nanton. SS The original composition reportedly credited Brown and saxophonist Toby Hardwick, but they received no credit – and subsequently no royalties – once the song was published. JS Ellington is said to have paid Brown and Nanton $15.00 apiece for their contributions. SS It was a common practice at the time to pay a flat fee to musicians. JS In addition to solos from Ellington, Hardwick, and Brown, the final recording featured ao solo from clarinetist Barney Bigard. SS

That same year, Tin Pan Alley lyricist Mitchell Parish, best known for “Stardust,” gave the song words AJ with additional credit to Irving Mills. “Sophisticated Lady” became “an enduring standard for vocalists.” SS Ellington gave a mixed blessing of the added words, calling them “wonderful – but not entirely fitted to my original conception.” AJ

In 1933, Glen Gray took the song to #4 and Don Redman had a #19 hit with it. In 1948, Billy Eckstine went to #24 with his version. PM Others to record the song included Chick Corea, Dave Grusin Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum, WK and a 1956 recording with Rosemary Clooney on vocals alongside Duke Ellington’s band. SS


Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Duke Ellington
  • AJ AllAboutJazz.com
  • JS JazzStandards.com
  • SS Steve Sullivan (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (Volumes I & II). Scarecrow Press: Lanham, Maryland. Pages 540-1.
  • PM Joel Whitburn (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Page 583.
  • WK Wikipedia

First posted 4/23/2021.

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