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October 13, 2015

Independent Lens: Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life - an early look

by Adam Finley, posted Feb 6th 2007 3:01PM

billy strayhornMost people recognize the name Duke Ellington, but very few know the name Billy Strayhorn. The documentary Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, which will be featured tonight on the PBS series Independent Lens at 10:00 p.m., hopes to change that. Strayhorn composed many of Ellington's hits, but his quiet demeanor kept him in Ellington's shadow. Also, he was an openly gay black man living in the '40s, a time when most remained closeted for fear of violence or worse.

Strayhorn's story is told through the people he worked with and his family, but the real centerpiece of the documentary is the music he helped to create. Scenes of live in-studio performances of Strayhorn's songs are sprinkled throughout the documentary, creating a wonderful introduction to the man and his work. If you love music and music history, this is definitely worth checking out.

My only minor beef with the documentary are the few scenes in which an actor portraying Strayhorn is "interviewed." It's really unnecessary, since the story is told just fine using archive footage and interviews. Still, I can accept that if it means people can learn something about a man who wrote some of the most memorable songs of the jazz era and never got the recognition he deserved while still alive.

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I too enjoyed the Strayhorn doc and was impressed learning he wrote Lush Life at the age of 16. I have heard many artist sing Lush Life but Dianne Reeves really 'sang'it.
This documentary left me wanting to know more about Mr. Strayhorn. Great Work!

February 08 2007 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thoroughly enjoyed the Billy Strayhorn Documentary Lush life.
I would like to see a listing of the participants who spoke in the documentry. I believe Ken Burns is the only documentrist who will continue to repeat the names of the people who are making relevant comments to the piece. If someone knows where I can find theses folks IMDB does not list them please let me know. thanks

February 07 2007 at 9:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Adam Finley

You're right, that does read a little weird, doesn't it?

It's changed now, thanks.


February 06 2007 at 11:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Billy Strayhorn was the man. The Duke would have been considerably less without him and it's always good to see him get recognition.

Do me a favor, swap black and gay. I've been openly black for about 50 years now :)


February 06 2007 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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