Native Roots | The Duke's Washington

Washington, DC, United States
Est. 12.3km / 4 hrs 7 mins / Map

INTRO: Remembering Duke's D.C. @ A Glance...

Native Roots | The Duke's Washington - Cya On The Road

Since Washington, DC was first declared our nation’s capital in 1791, African Americans have played a prominent role in establishing the city’s civic life and cultural identity. On April 16, 1862, the U.S. Congress passed the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, making Washingtonians the first in freedom in the nation, nine months before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. During the Civil War (1861-1865) and Reconstruction era (1865-1877), more than 25,000 African Americans moved from rural Southern towns and settled into Washington neighborhoods such as Foggy Bottom nestled not far from Georgetown University.

VIEW: Animated map showing territorial progression of Washington, D.C.

It was around this time that the beautiful and very accomplished, Daisy Kennedy was born in D.C. on January 4, 1879, she was the daughter of a former American slave and several years later in 1886, her future husband, James Edward Ellington moved to D.C. with his parents from the little Southern town, Lincolnton, North Carolina.  

On January 3, 1898, James and Daisy were married and little did they know their union would produce one of the most prolific composers, bandleaders and pianist of all-time, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington. Duke is to Washington what Louis Armstrong is to New Orleans or what Charlie Parker is to Kansas City. The elegance and sophistication of Duke’s persona and musical genius was shaped and molded in Washington, DC, where the musician grew up influenced by the music of the early 20th century — ragtime, gospel and classical — before he began penning his own music compositions and forming his first dance bands while still in high school. In his early professional career years, he solidified his reputation as a solid composer and band leader along Washington, D.C.’s “lively” and “colorful” historic U Street entertainment district. It was a hot-bed for African American musical talent later known as “Black Broadway.” He performed in U Street’s stately theaters, after-hours nightclubs and its plentiful social halls on Saturday nights before moving to the Big Apple with his jazz orchestra in 1923.

In his fifty-year career, he gave American music its own sound for the first time through his famed recordings that influenced millions of people both at home and abroad, where he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East as well as Asia. Enjoy this mobile storytelling tour and self-directed journey, “Native Roots: The Duke’s Washington”, a rewarding African American experience and historical time capsule of early D.C. Ellingtonia for avid fans of American music and those that continue to celebrate his unparalleled talent, contributions and cultural legacy.

Duke Soundscape: "Washington Wobble" (Public Domain)

LISTEN: Duke Soundscape featured on this tour via



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