Famous Synesthetes

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington © Jon Stich 2012

Duke Ellington (born Edward Kennedy Ellington) was an American big-band leader, composer, and pianist. Born in Washington, D.C., Ellington was a prolific composer and a monolithic figure in jazz, though his compositions encompassed many other genres including film, blues, classical, and gospel. Not limiting himself to any one genre, Ellington referred to his compositions as American music. His creative uses of orchestration and texture are emblematic of his sound-color synesthesia: “I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it’s one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it’s a different color. When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures. If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin” (George, 1981, p. 226). Many of Ellington’s compositions are now considered to be jazz and popular standards, and in 1999 he was posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation “in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture” (The Pulitzer Prizes, n.d.).



George, D. (1981). Sweet man: The real Duke Ellington. New York: Putnam.

The Pulitzer Prizes. (n.d.). The 1999 Pulitzer Prize winners: Special awards and citations. Retrieved from http://www.pulitzer.org/citation/1999-Special-Awards-and-Citations.