Acclaimed jazz writer seeks posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Music honoring Duke Ellington

Jazz light Duke Ellington and his posthumous accomplishments have been honored in various forms such as statues, murals, schools, and United States commemorative stamps and coins.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame awarded Ellington a star, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Legion of Honor, Open Culture reports.

Ellington received a special Pulitzer Prize in 1999, honoring his legacy in the centennial year of his birth. However, in 1965 he was nominated by a music jury for the prestigious award, the regular Pulitzer Prize for Music, but the advisory board turned the musician down. Today acclaimed jazz writer Ted Gioiaauthor of several books on Jazzis leading the charge to remedy this blatant exclusion, according to Open Culture.

Gioia used the recent reinstatement of the Olympics of two gold medals won by Jim Thorpe as a model for creating a petition begging Pulitzer’s board to retroactively award Ellington the prestigious honor, InsideHook reports.

“The jury that judged the participants that year decided to do something different,” writes jazz critic Ted Gioia. “They recommended paying tribute to Duke Ellington for the ‘vitality and originality of his total productivity’ over more than forty years.”

“Giving him the 1965 award is the right thing for Duke Ellington, the right thing for the Pulitzer, and the right thing for American music,” Gioia wrote.

He adds: “The Pulitzer Board refused to accept the jury’s decision and decided that it was better not to award any prize than to honor Duke Ellington. Two members of the three-person jury, Winthrop Sargeant and Robert Eyerresigned immediately.

The story is reminiscent of Ellington conveying a sense of fierce composure despite apparent racial prejudice.

“Fate is kind to me,” he told reporters. “Fate does not want me to be famous too young” – which Gioia notes “he was 66 at the time and in the last decade of his life”, according to Open Culture.

Gioia launched a Substack, and one of its articles gave Additional details on the problematic Pulitzer Board decision.

Gioia argues that if Ellington had received the 1965 Pulitzer, “it would be the first time a jazz musician or an African American has received this prestigious award,” according to InsideHook.

Gioia created an online petition that 9,000 people have signed, including John Adams, Michael Dird, Steve Reichand Gene Weingartenall Pulitzer winners, according to Open Culture.

“We assume the Pulitzers are awarded for work that qualifies for the ages, that pushes boundaries, that suggests not just intelligence but genius,” Write the New York Times ‘John McWhorter. “There is no doubt that the Ellington corpus fits this definition.”

Sign the petition here.