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Duke Ellington at the Movies

Wikimedia Commons / Louis Panassie

Duke Ellington is one of the best known figures in jazz history. But did you know he was a movie star, too?

Duke Ellington (1899 - 1974) was certainly a jazz superstar. Considered one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, the pianist and big band leader wrote more than 1,000 musical pieces. His songs became popular standards, he was a 12-time Grammy winner, and he's in just about every musical Hall of Fame that could possibly apply to his body of work. His name is one of the best known in jazz history. But did you know he was a movie star, too?

From almost the beginning of his career, Ellington appeared in movies. The casting made perfect sense – when the script called for some hot dancing to cool jazz, what better way to bring it than with the ever-popular Duke Ellington orchestra? His winning smile didn't hurt, either – he had a screen presence as comfortable and confident as most actors.

To celebrate the late legend, we present a few notable film appearances by Duke Ellington.

"Black and Tan Fantasy" was a 1929 short film about the Harlem Renaissance Movement. It was a perfect venue for Ellington's first big-screen appearance, since he was a major player in the Harlem scene. Ellington's music plays throughout the film, and the story revolves around Ellington and his band, as well.

"Cabin in the Sky" was groundbreaking in 1943 for its all-black cast. Ellington's band was the perfect addition, driving this swing dance showcase with a couple of great tunes.

"Anatomy of a Murder" gave Ellington the chance to speak a few lines – and to share a piano bench with James Stewart. And Ellington didn't just cameo in this movie – he wrote the musical score, too.