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“Sophisticated Lady” was introduced by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra in 1933 on a record that entered the pop charts in late May and stayed there for 16 weeks, having risen as far as number three. The flip side, “Stormy Weather”, did almost as well and went to number four. Ellington said he was inspired by three of his grade school teachers: “They taught all winter and toured Europe in the summer. To me that spelled sophistication”.

Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, a staff writer at Mills Publishing, added lyrics later. Ellington described the words as “wonderful—but not entirely fitted to my original conception”. As with many other jazz standards, there are several stories of the song’s origins. Lawrence Brown, the trombone player, claimed the first 8 bars and credited saxophonist Toby Hardwick with the release. Others gave the majority of credit to Hardwick, a friend of Ellington’s since early childhood. Per Stuart Nicholson: “The composer credits originally showed Ellington, Hardwick, Brown, and Mills.” However, Hardwick and Brown were not included in the subsequent copyright, a fairly common occurrence when the future earnings of songs were unknown.

Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899-1974) was one of the most popular and respected musicians of the 20th century. Renowned for his elegant style, his compositions and arrangements allowed each of the musicans in his band to showcase their best qualities and many members of his band stayed in it for years. Irving Mills (1896-1985) managed the Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1926 to 1939, sang on some recordings and wrote lyrics to several songs, including “Mood Indigo” (1931) and “Caravan” (1937). Lithuanian-born Mitchell Parish first rose to fame with the lyrics to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” in 1929, then went on to write lyrics for “Stars Fell on Alabama” (1934), “Deep Purple” (1938), and “Moonlight Serenade”.


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