The late legendary musician, bandleader and composer Duke Ellington was a celebrated figure for his pivotal contributions towards the development of jazz and 20th century music. However, in his lifetime there was one prestigious honour that Ellington was unjustly overlooked for: the 1965 Pulitzer Prize.
In 1965, the music jury of the Pulitzer Board strongly recommended Ellington for that year’s prize — only to be denied by the advisory committee. As a result, no winner for the Pulitzer Prize was chosen for 1965 and the following fallout culminated in the resignation of three music jury members in protest.
Almost 60 years later, acclaimed jazz writer Ted Gioia recently brought the issue back to the forefront, starting a petition on Change.org to give the award to Ellington.
“Giving him the 1965 prize is the right thing for Duke Ellington, the right thing for the Pulitzer, and the right thing for American music,” Gioia writes. “Had Ellington received the 1965 Pulitzer, it would be the first time a jazz musician or an African-American received this prestigious award.”
Ellington’s response to the Pulitzer Board’s decision at the time led to a comment that’s taken on a life of its own in the decades since. “Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn’t want me to be famous too young,” Ellington said.
The Pulitzer Board eventually issued a special citation to Ellington, awarded posthumously in 1999 to commemorate the centennial year of his birth. However, the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for Music remains unawarded to this day.
Fans can support the petition here.