by David Hajdu
published by Farrar Straus Giroux
© 1996 by David Hajdu
Click on image to purchase
From Publishers Weekly
Hajdu, taking his title from one of Strayhorn's youthful works, deftly
chronicles the life of the gifted composer, arranger and pianist about
whom little has been known until now. Strayhorn (1915-1967), often called
Duke Ellington's alter ego, collaborated with the legendary bandleader
for more than 25 years, yet remained in his shadow; few outside the
music world realized he composed and wrote the lyrics for "Take
the 'A' Train" and many other pieces often attributed to Ellington.
Drawing on interviews with Strayhorn's friends, family and fellow musicians,
Hajdu, an editor at Entertainment Weekly, brings his subject out of
obscurity, showing him to be a complex, shy, charming genius whose extraordinary
talents were recognized mainly by other musicians and members of an
elite circle of black performers, artists and writers who adored him.
The extent to which Ellington deliberately kept him in the background
is unclear, but Strayhorn seems to have preferred this arrangement;
without the need to pursue a career on his own, he could be open about
his homosexuality at a time when most gay men kept their sexual orientation
secret. He died tragically of cancer of the esophagus at 52. Photos
not seen by PW.
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