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Home | ArtMakers | Mercedes Ellington
Profession
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Color: cerisse
Food: lamb chop
Quote: Don't piss in my vest pocket and tell me it's raining.
Season: fall/winter
Birthplace
New York, New York
Interview Description:

Biography |

Interview Date: 08/12/2016

Dancer and choreographer Mercedes Ellington was born on February 9, 1939 in New York, New York to Ruth Batts and Mercer Ellington. Her father was a trumpet player and conductor, while her grandfather was the renowned composer and bandleader, Duke Ellington. Ellington was raised by her maternal grandparents Louise and Alfred Silas who enrolled her in dance and ballet classes at an early age to correct a circulatory problem. These early classes led to Ellington earning a scholarship to The Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet, however, after being urged by her father, she attended The Julliard School of Music, where she graduated in 1960 with a degree in classical and modern dance.

After several auditions, in 1963, Mercedes Ellington became the first African American member of the June Taylor Dancers, the featured performers on The Jackie Gleason Show. She danced with the June Taylor Dancers for 7 years, until she moved on to Broadway and performed in shows that include No, No Nannette, The Night That Made America Famous, The Grand Tour, and Happy New Year. In 1981, Ellington starred in Sophisticated Ladies, accompanied by her father, who conducted the orchestra playing her grandfather, Duke Ellington’s, music. While Sophisticated Ladies was predicted to be a flop, the musical turned out to be a Broadway hit for nearly two years, with a 767-performance run. Ellington began to transition from performance to choreography, and founded BalleTap, later named DancEllington, with Maurice Hines in 1983. While DancEllington was dissolved in 1992, it allowed Ellington to produce award-winning choreography in musicals such as Blues in the Night, Juba, Satchmo and Tuxedo Junction. Ellington directed the Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS Tribute to the Spirit of Harlem, in 2001, leading one of the largest and most high profile events for the program. In 2004, she founded Duke Ellington Center for the Arts, a non-profit dedicated to scholarship, education, and performance connected to the legacy of Duke Ellington.

Ellington’s choreography and commitment to her grandfather’s legacy have earned her numerous honors and awards throughout her career, including the Actor’s Equity Association’s Paul Robeson Award and the FloBert Lifetime Achievement Award. She has been a judge for the Capezio Dance Awards, and a member of the American Guild of Musical Artists, and the Screen Actors’ Guild. In addition, Ellington has served on the local and national boards of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. In 2016, she also co-authored a book entitled Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon with Stephen Brower.

Ellington lives in New York with her long-time partner, Kent Drake.

Mercedes Ellington was interviewed by The History Makers on August 12, 2016.

Speaker Bureau Notes: