April 24, 1969 Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Richard M. Nixon. Ellington was born April 29, 1899 in Washington, D. C. He began taking piano lessons at 7 and wrote his first composition, “Soda Fountain Rag,” at 14. He and his band began playing at Harlem’s Cotton Club in 1927 and weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave them national exposure. Ellington delivered some of his biggest hits during the 1930s and early 1940s, including “Mood Indigo” (1930), “Sophisticated Lady” (1933), “Caravan” (1937), and “Take the A Train” (1941). In 1943, he began to compose and perform longer form jazz suites with “Black, Brown, and Beige,” which told the story of African Americans and the place of slavery and the church in their history. Other innovative recordings include “Such Sweet Thunder” (1957), “The Far East Suite” (1966), and “The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse” (1971). Ellington also worked on film scores, including “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) and “Paris Blues” (1961). He earned 13 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966, and 9 of his recordings were inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” Additionally, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1956, received the 1959 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, and awarded the Legion of Honor by France in 1973. Ellington died May 24, 1974. He was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1986, he was awarded a Special Citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1999, and the U. S. Mint issued a special Washington, D. C. quarter in 2009 featuring his image, the first African American to appear alone on a circulating U. S. coin. His autobiography, “Music is My Mistress,” was published in 1976.