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