On the evening of April 29, 1969, President Nixon awarded the Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington — the first time in U.S. history anyone in jazz had been so honored. To pay tribute to the maestro, a stunning array of jazz greats (among them Dave Brubeck, Jim Hall, J.J. Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, and Clark Terry) assembled in the East Room of the White House (another first) and performed twenty-seven Ellington songs in a ninety-minute concert.
Edward Faine takes us behind the scenes, tracing the decades-long journey that both Ellington and jazz had to travel to have their music heard in the White House, and the machinations leading up to Nixon's approval of the tribute and Willis Conover as the concert's producer. Faine then brings Duke's big night alive, describing the banquet, the medal ceremony, and the all-star concert in vivid detail. At the boisterous jam session that follows and lasts well past midnight, guests dance to the music of Marine, all-star, and guest musicians (including jazz notables Dizzy Gillespie, Marian McPartland, and Willy "the Lion" Smith).
Brimming with photographs and surprising little-known facts, the book celebrates the singular White House event that had such an enormous impact on both the African American and the jazz arts communities — and on the millions worldwide who viewed the USIA documentary (a White House first) and listened to Willis Conover's VOA radio broadcasts of the event.