Title: Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra

Author:  Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney

Publication Date: 1998

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children

Price: $15.95

Number of Pages: 32

Awards: Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrator Honor

Genre/Subgenre: Picture book, Biography

Popularity: 4/5
Quality: 5/5

Reader’s Annotation:

How a young boy who hated piano lessons became “the king of the keys.”


When Duke Ellington was a boy, his parents wanted him to take piano lessons, but he quit because he thought they were boring. Years later as a young man, he heard the piano again and became enraptured with ragtime. He formed a band called the Washingtonians and they began to play night clubs. Eventually their group grew and they called themselves Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. People loved Duke Ellington’s music and it was popular in nightclubs and on records so people could listen at home. Duke Ellington composed the tribute to African-Americans Black, Brown, and Beige, which he and his orchestra played at Carnegie Hall.


Duke Ellington is a colorful, beautiful book and a wonderful tribute to a musical legend. The rhythmic prose and lively illustrations bring Duke Ellington’s music to life – I could almost hear it when I was reading this book. This would be a great read-aloud book!

Why I Chose the Book:

I’m a big Duke Ellington fan and I was really intrigued to read a picture book biography about him.


Squeak! Rumble! Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! by Wynton Marsalis

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Jazz by Walter Dean Myers

Book Talk Ideas

Have a music appreciation lesson. Play some of Duke Ellington’s songs and talk about his style and influence on jazz.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think made Duke Ellington’s music so popular? What did people like about it?

2. Duke Ellington’s Orchestra features Duke Ellington’s piano as well as several other instruments: the drums, trombone, saxophone, and trumpet. If you could play in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, what instrument would you want to play?


“Duke Ellington.” NoveList K-8. EBSCO, 20 Feb. 2005. Web. 3 May 2014. <http://0-search.ebscohost.com.catalog.sjlibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=njh&tg=UI&an=131889&site=novpk8-live&gt;.

Goodreads (2014). Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/829315.Duke_Ellington?from_search=true

Pinkney, A.D. & Pinkney, B. (1998) Duke Ellington. Hyperion Books for Children: New York.