Duke Ellington

© 1997 by Kathryn Kay,
All rights reserved.

Duke Ellington was a classical/jazz pianist/composer superstar of international acclaim. The following anecdote from the life of Kathryn Kay describes when she met him, as told to her son John by her on 15 Aug 1999, and recorded here the next morning.

In 1947 there was a governor's conference in Salt Lake City. Governor Maw of Utah asked Kathryn to take the place of the wife of the governor of Ohio, who had recently died, by attending all of the functions with him. This was just before Governor Dewey ran for president in 1948, whom the newspapers prematurely announced had won, when it was really Truman to did. Jim Haggerty was the press secretary to Governor Dewey, and then later for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

When Kay was chosen to interview Governor Dewey at the conference, she brought out a warm family side of him. Normally he was portrayed more as an unfeeling cold fish, so this interview drew attention, especially of Jim Haggerty. He noticed mother and suddenly they seemed to be together several times. Duke Ellington was in Salt Lake, playing at Jerry Jones' Rainbow Rendevous and Jim wanted to impress Kay by introducing him to her, because he knew the Duke personally. Kay said she would be delighted to meet him because she had always admired him and had wanted to meet him for some time.

So they went to dinner there and sure enough, Duke was playing. Jim took Kay right over to the piano where he played and after greeting him, told him he'd like to introduce him to Kathryn Kay. Duke said, "Kathryn Kay! You mean I'm finally going to get to meet Kathryn Kay??" and he nodded to his back up player and did a piano run right off the high notes and the other man continued exactly where he had quit. They went to a private table and talked for about fifteen minutes. There he told her what a great fan he was of hers, and of course she told him likewise. He told her that he had practically memorized everything she had written. Jim Haggerty was totally flabbergasted, just in shock. He had been trying to impress her and ended up being so impressed by her.

Sam Weller, owner of Zion's Book Store told the story of a previous time when Duke Ellington had come into his store and asked for a copy of one of Kathryn Kay's books. He said he was going to sit right there and wait until Sam found it. Sam said he had never taken so long to find a book because a line of customers immediately began entering the store to cluster around him, so he didn't hurry.

Another woman told Kathryn that she had been on a train on which the Duke's band was travelling. She said that most of the members were playing poker, but that Duke spent all of his time reading her book, just glued to it. She wanted Kathryn to know what a big fan he was of hers. So Duke Ellington and Kathryn Kay had great mutual respect for each other.

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