Jazz legend Duke Ellington died on this day, May 24, 1974
On April 24, 1969, Ellington celebrated his 70th birthday at the White House where he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The medal was presented by President Richard Nixon, who himself had played the piano since childhood. From the President’s remarks:
“When we think of freedom, we think of many things. But Duke Ellington is one who has carried the message of freedom to all the nations of the world through music, through understanding, understanding that reaches over all national boundaries and over all boundaries of prejudice and over all boundaries of language..
In the royalty of American music, no man swings more or stands higher than the Duke.”
Afterwards, the President played “Happy Birthday” on the piano for the Duke while guests at the White House sang along.
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington
April 29, 1899 - May 24, 1974