A Woman to Know: Ruth Ellington Boatwright

One of Ellington's few confidantes, his sister, Ruth, believed he hid himself in 'veil upon veil upon veil.' Claudia Roth Pierpont

(image via Smithsonian)

There's hundreds of biographies on music legend Duke Ellington. None on Ruth. Thousands of edits to the Duke Ellington Wikipedia page. Ruth doesn't have one. Two historical markers in his hometown of Washington, DC commemorate the music legend. One of those sits outside the same house he shared with Ruth.

But Duke's younger sister is the one who, in many ways, made the legend possible. In his early career, she managed his star power and acted as her one of her brother's only confidantes. Later on, she managed the Ellington Band and took control of Tempo Music, Duke's legendary music publishing company. And after her brother's death in 1974, Ruth set about the tough business of managing his legacy: she organized archives for the Smithsonian, she hosted members of the Duke Ellington Society at her home in New York, and furthermore, she approved the hundreds of Ellington biographies in which she is but a small part.

But even at the end of her life, she believed her brother's music was timeless. As many young musicians remember, she saw her brother's influence in music from all generations. "I'd like to see a Broadway show of Duke's sacred and classical music," she told The New York Times in 1991, "with a rap artist prancing up and down the stage and doing Duke's 'Supreme Being' recitative."

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