Returning Duke’s Love for a City

The thick knot of politicians heaved like longshoremen as they pulled on a yellow rope dangling from a pulley yesterday afternoon at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street. The band played ‘‘Satin Doll.’‘ Lost somewhere in the cluster of raised arms were Bobby Short, the cabaret singer, and Robert Graham, the sculptor, who had made the event possible.

Slowly, the other end of the rope pulled up a billowing golden cloth and revealed New York’s newest monument, the Duke Ellington Memorial.

‘‘Without Bobby Short, it would not have happened,’‘ said former Mayor Edward I. Koch. ‘‘After I’m gone, if there’s something for me, you’re in charge, Bobby.’‘

The memorial was unveiled under a welcome patch of gray clouds that blocked the scorching sun for the hour long ceremony at Duke Ellington Circle, renamed two years ago from Frawley Circle, on the northeast corner of Central Park.

There was music by Ellington, including a performance by Wynton Marsalis, and speeches from Mr. Short, Mr. Graham, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Mayors Koch and David N. Dinkins and two members of Ellington’s family, his granddaughter Mercedes Ellington, and his sister, Ruth Ellington Boatwright.

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‘‘In Rome, you have to be an emperor to get a statue of this size and magnificence,’‘ said Henry J. Stern, the Parks Commissioner.

The memorial rests atop three pillars, each crowned with a trio of nude women, the nine Muses, their raised arms supporting a thick disk atop which is a piano and an eight-foot statue of the standing Duke looking as elegant as an ivory stickpin. The 25-foot monument is all bronze, though it has been given a black coating; only the bottom of the disk remains a gleaming bronze.

The speakers praised Ellington’s contribution to American music, the renaissance for the northern edge of Central Park that they hope the new memorial symbolizes and Mr. Short’s tireless crusade to have the memorial built. ‘‘Duke Ellington ended many of his performances by saying, ‘I love you, madly,’ ‘’ Mr. Giuliani said. ‘‘This memorial is our way of saying, ‘New York City loves you, too, madly, Duke.’ ‘’

Mr. Short got the idea for the memorial in 1979, five years after Ellington’s death at the age of 75, and formed the Duke Ellington Memorial Fund with the help of some friends and the support of Ellington’s family. Mr. Graham, a California-based sculptor whose public works include the Olympic Gateway in Los Angeles and the Joe Louis Memorial in Detroit, was chosen to design and build it.

‘‘I hope my efforts will do justice to the memory of Duke Ellington,’‘ he told a cheering crowd of several hundred dignitaries, Ellington fans and neighborhood residents.

‘‘I don’t think I ever heard any of his CD’s,’‘ said Edwin Hayes Thomas, 19, who was playing with friends in the park when he heard the music and came over to investigate. ‘‘But he makes a nice-looking statue.’‘

by Rick Lyman
Source: The New York Times

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