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    Chicago Presents:Billy Strayhorn. 100 Years

A city wide Billy Strayhorn Festival will run in the city of Chicago from September 4th thru November 21st in clubs, concert halls, community centers and other venues throughout Chicagoland. Coordinated by Chicago's famed Auditorium Theatre and its executive director Brett Batterson, the Strayhorn celebration will feature performances of his work in many forms as well as panel discussions examining Strayhorns place in music, culture and American society. Following are a few highlights of the Billy Strayhorn Festival:

Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Jeff Lindberg's band kicks off the festival with new versions of Strayhorn repertoire; 8:30p.m. September 4th at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue; free; go to

Mike Smith Quartet. Saxophonist Smith and his quartet will collaborate on music of Strayhorn; starting at 9:30p.m. September 23rd at Andy's Jazz Club, 11 East Hubbard Street.; $10; call 312-642-6805 or go to

"The Life and Music of Billy Strayhorn." Northwestern University professor E. Patrick Johnson collaborates with Kim Hunt, Johari Jabir and Cedric Brown in a discussion of Strayhorn's life, with musical performance and recordings. 4p.m. October 4th at Center on Halsted, 3656 North Halsted Street.; free; go to for more info.

"Jazz'n on the South Side" featuring Dee Alexander. The great Chicago singer performs music of Strayhorn. 7p.m. October 7th at the Caribbean Cove, 8020 South King Drive.

D'Erania. The saxophonist performs October 30th at T&JJ's, 718 South 5th Avenue, Maywood, Illinois.

"Strayhorn: an Illustrated Life" (Agate Bolden). The coffee table book includes a foreword by Ramsey Lewis and essays by authors David Hajdu, Walter van de Leur and film director Robert Levi; in stores November 10th; $35.

"Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn." The festival's grand finale will be a revue of Strayhorn's music featuring vocal soloists, dancers, chorus and orchestra. In addition, the Auditorium will present its first annual Eighth Wonder Award. 8p.m. November 21st at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress Parkway; tickets $29-$68; call 312-341-2300 for info or visit

What does Executive Director Brett Batterson hope will come of all this music, discussion and analysis? "It's the social message, along with the entertainment value", says Batterson. Few jazz figures combine these themes more poignantly than Strayhorn... 



New Strayhorn book coming November 2015

Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life, is a stunning collection of essays, photographs, and ephemera celebrating Billy Strayhorn, one of the most significant yet under appreciated contributors to 20th century American music. Released in commemoration of Strayhorn's Centennial, this luxurious coffee table book offers intimate details of the composers life from musicians, scholars, and Strayhorn's closest relatives. Perhaps best known for his 28 year collaborative role as Duke Ellingtons "writing and arranging companion", Strayhorn has emerged in recent years as an even more meritorious force in shaping the jazz canon. "Strayhorn" delves into every stage of Billy's career, beginning with his abusive upbringing and early success to later partnerships with Lena Horne and the Copasetics. Rich with insights, the book covers topics such as his music, family, intellectual pursuits, involvement with civil rights and open homosexuality. Featuring contributions from Strayhorn biographer David Hadju, film director Robert Levi, music scholar Walter van de Leur, as well as lush photography and rare memorabilia like hand written scores, this is a book to be treasured by jazz aficionados and music lovers everywhere. Enthralling and visually captivating, "Strayhorn: An Illustrated Life" lauds a beloved jazz legend and captures a prodigious legacy that will influence generations to come.



Announcing the Billy Strayhorn 2015 Centennial Honorary Committee!

Bringing together luminaries from entertainment, education and performing arts, the Billy Strayhorn 2015 Centennial Honorary Committee brings together an impressive list of individuals with a wide array of accomplishments expanding beyond jazz.

The Honorary Chair for the committee is (in memorium), jazz legend Clark Terry. The centennial honorary committee members all share a vision to contribute to 2015 being a year of celebrating the life and music of the man affectionately known as 'Swee Pea'.

To all Honorary Committee Members, THANK YOU for your time and talent to perpetuate the continuing growing legacy of Billy Strayhorn.

The 2015 centennial vision is being spearheaded by the Billy Strayhorn Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to celebrate the music and life of composer, arranger, pianist Billy Strayhorn and to develop an appreciation of his music among all people. The Billy Strayhorn Foundation supports this purpose through live music performance, lectures, and symposia.  

The Strayhorn Centennial Honorary Committee, a project of the Billy Strayhorn Foundation, is working with community groups, artists, and performing arts organizations interested in creating events throughout the centennial year of 2015 which explore and expand the musical legacy of Billy Strayhorn.

Our Honorary Committee members to date (August/2015). 

Clark Terry, Chair (In Memorium),  National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, educator and highly acclaimed trumpet player and member the great bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Ann Hampton Callaway, Grammy nominated jazz vocalist

Tammy McCann, jazz vocalist, recording artist, music teacher/coach

Mark George, President/CEO Music Institute of Chicago

David Hajdu, award winning Strayhorn biographer

Walter van de Leur, Pd.D., award winning Strayhorn biographer/musicologist

Rob Levi, Emmy/Peabody winning Strayhorn filmmaker/documentarian

John Clayton, Grammy winning co-founder of the Clayton/Hamilton Big Band

Donald Harrison, award winning jazz saxophone player and composer

Ramsey Lewis, Grammy winning jazz pianist and recording artist

Terell Stafford, acclaimed trumpet player and Chair of Jazz Studies- Temple University

Kevin Mahogany, acclaimed jazz vocalist and recording artist

R. Susan Motely, music promoter

Carol Adams, Former President/CEO DuSable Museum of African American History

Herb Jordan, music publisher/writer

Charles McPherson, acclaimed jazz alto saxophone player, recording artist and composer

The Duke Ellington Society of Washington D. C.

Allan Harris, acclaimed jazz vocalist and composer

Alex Webb, MA, Music Department Buckinghamshire New University, United Kingdom

The Duke Ellington Society of Toronto, Canada (TDES 40)

The Duke Ellington Society of the United Kingdom (DESUK)

Vernard Gray, producer, Be Mo Jazz/East River Jazz Project, Washington D.C-Baltimore

Filarmonica Laudamo Messina. Messina, Sicily

Bill Dobbins, Professor of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media. Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Robin Bell-Stevens, Executive Director and CEO, Jazzmobile Inc.

Randy Weston, Jazz Pianist and Composer

Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Scholarship Award Recognizes Jason Clotter: Litchfield Jazz Camp.

Congratulations to Jason Clotter, The first recipient of the Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Scholarship awarded in conjunction with the Litchfield Jazz Camp, New Milford, Connecticut. Jason is a 19 year old bass player from the Bronx, New York who has also played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center youth band. Jason said the camp experience was life changing and he learned a great deal. Saxophonist and Music Director Don Braden described Jason as "having the right attitude, always practicing, always asking questions". Along with tuition assistance, Jason also received a letter of recognition from the Billy Strayhorn Foundation and several Strayhorn related items as a gift.

The mission of the Billy Strayhorn Foundation is to celebrate the music and life of the composer, arranger, pianist Billy Strayhorn through live music performance, lectures, and symposia.  The Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Scholarship Award was established in 2008 by Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc. to recognize students, teachers, and institutions that display a passion for playing, studying, and perpetuating jazz. The Billy Strayhorn Foundation, Inc. has managed the award since 2010. Given annually, the BSJESA promotes the values to which Billy Strayhorn adhered in his life, namely, personal integrity, commitment to excellence, and perseverance.

Under the leadership of Ms. Vita Muir, Executive/Artistic Director of the Litchfield Performing Arts Incorporated, the Litchfield Jazz Camp is an all-embracing program focused on musical and personal growth where you can learn by hearing greats on their staff and each other. While the commitment to the music is at the highest level, the program is not competitive. There is no pre-audition required. They will listen to you play when you arrive and assign you to a combo at your own level. Find out more about the camp and the Litchfield Jazz Festival at, or call 860-361-6285. 


Lush Life, In The Limelight At Last  by Curtis Woody

Visual artist Curtis Woody has created a "quilt art" collage celebrating "Strayhorn Pre-Ellington" & "Strayhorn's Harlem". Washington DC JAZZFest visitors will be encouraged to discuss this work, and others on display, as he shares his journey in developing the work. EAST RIVER JAZZ is offering a 16x20 fine art reproduction of the work with plans to offer a limited edition, full-sized  reproduction of the artwork to support Celebrating Strayhorn! as well.

Sunday June 14, 2015: 1:00pm to 7:00pm. Free Admission. Donations Appreciated.
 1918 Martin Luther King Avenue SE. Washington DC- 20020


$130 + $15/Shipping & Handling |Order Online

Or send a check/money order to:

CA-FAM III, Inc. % vernard r gray

4339 Bowen Road SE #316 Washington DC 20019

Mr. Vernard Gray, producer and curator of East River Jazz is presenting "Celebrating Strayhorn". For you jazz lovers, this is a creative lineup of conversations and performances honoring the legacy and 100th anniversary of composer-arranger William "Billy" Strayhorn. Most of the events will be free but donations will be appreciated. Please check our Events calendar for happenings each month. Also visit for info and updates. 

East River Jazz is an initiative that works to present jazz culture and music to underserved communities in the Washington DC. area.

East River Jazz



Duke Ellington and President Richard Nixon, 1969.



In 1969 on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Duke Ellington was summoned to the White House by President Nixon to receive the Medal of Freedom as one of America’s greatest composers and bandleaders. In accepting the award, Ellington did so in honor of Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) who died in 1967.  

Nixon: “The President of the United States of America awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Edward Kennedy Ellington. In the royalty of American music, no man swings more or stands higher than the Duke.” 

Ellington: “Thank you Mr. President, Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen. And of course we speak of freedom of expression, we speak of freedom generally as being very sweet and fat and things like that. But at the end when we get down to the payoff, what we actually say is that we would like very much to mention the four major freedoms that my friend and writing and arranging composer Billy Strayhorn lived by and enjoyed.
And that was:
1. Freedom from hate, unconditionally.
2. Freedom from self-pity.
3. Freedom from the fear of possibly doing something that may help someone else more than it would you.
4. And, freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel that he is better than his brother.

“I don’t know how this affects you but it damn near makes me cry!!!”

(trans: Bruce Swedien)


As part of the Strayhorn Centennial, there is a movement to seek a posthumous Medal of Freedom for Billy Strayhorn in honor of the magnitude of his contribution as a great American composer, his involvement in social justice (worked with Martin Luther King, Jr.) and his support of those in need (created music for the Copasetics Foundation to raise money for social causes).

This is the Centennial year of Strayhorn's birth and celebrations are taking place around the world.  There are no fewer than 20 celebrations scheduled for Washington, D. C. involving the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

In recent years, Strayhorn's legacy has grown and has been recognized by people of all walks of life for his genius and his life story in 20th Century America.  His very notable contributions musically include his composition, "Take the 'A' Train" which was Duke Ellington's theme song and one of the top songs of the 20th Century.  His composition, "Lush Life" is in the list of the top torch songs ever written and has been recorded by artists ranging from Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, Queen Latifah and Lady Gaga.

Strayhorn is famous for his lack of fame--given the magnitude of his artistic accomplishments.  One of the reasons his legacy has been overlooked is due to his commitment to live openly as a gay black male in the 1940's.  Prejudice from some industry powerbrokers contributed to the subordination of his legacy for this reason.  Yet he commands the respect of musicians everywhere.  Not only in the jazz world but among social scientists, artists, and educators.  He is featured this year on the poster for JAM Month sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution.

Many great artists have performed his works including Lena Horne (his best friend), Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Wynton Marsalis, The Canadian Brass, notable symphony orchestra artists, and classical musicians.  Some of the contemporary artists who respect Strayhorn include Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Queen Latifah, Linda Rondstadt, the late Donna Summer, Natalie Cole and others, Lady Gaga and others.  His civic activities included working with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement and also with organizations that promoted raising funds for the needy.  He created music especially for these organizations, specifically the Copasetics, a black fraternal tap dance organization established in 1949 in memory of the great Bo jangles Robinson. Strayhorn served as President until his death in 1967.  The organization, which is still active, retired the title of President in honor of Billy Strayhorn.

Letters of support should be addressed directly to the President:

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20500


A. Alyce Claerbaut


Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc.



 David Hajdu

Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu releases debut album "Waiting for an Angel"

Award winning author and music critic David Hajdu is adding lyricist to his list of achievements.

For the past five years, he's been working with composers and musicians in a collaborative effort to "make songs that live in the 21st century," says Hajdu.

In August 2010, Hajdu became severely ill. Believing he was facing his own mortality, Hajdu reflected on his life and accomplishments and came to the realization that he regretted not writing songs. After Hajdu recovered and was released from the hospital, he began the process of writing lyrics and creating songs with renowned composers Fred Hersch, Renee Rosnes and Jill Sobule.

Hajdu says he worked slowly to write pieces that "lived in the 21st century." He did this because he believed that so many of the artists he listened to wrote about ideas that were "outdated," he says. The album, "Waiting for an Angel" will be released August 28th, 2015.

One of his songs has its origins in Hajdu's 1996 book, "Lush Life", a biography on Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn was once described by David as a "triple minority." He was a gay African-American, who was open about his homosexuality in a time when homosexuality wasn't viewed as socially acceptable.

The song "Suffer" was written by Hajdu in tribute to the late pianist.

"Suffer" recounts stories from Strayhorn's life. The song is written in the key of D, which is the key used by Strayhorn to write "Lush Life."

"Waiting for an Angel" cannot be placed into one specific genre as it touches various styles of music including jazz, pop and chamber music. This sound was achieved by working with singers and composers with various musical backgrounds. The vocals are provided by Jill Sobule, Michael Leonard, and Kate Oberlin, Hajdu's wife. "I'm lucky to have this incredible singer in my house," Hajdu says.

"Waiting for an Angel" will be performed in concert 7 p.m., September 2nd at the Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen Street in New York City. Tickets cost $20 and are available on You can also call Rockwood at (212) 477-4155.

This superb box set celebrating the work of William Thomas Strayhorn echoes the basic paradox of this extraordinary jazz musician’s life and career.

The richness and diversity of the music it contains will delight the most obsessive Strayhorn aficionado; at the same time it offers a thrilling introduction to the man many know only as someone who once played in Duke Ellington’s band and wrote “Take The “A” Train.

The 7 CDs contain material presenting 62 of Strayhorn’s compositions, not only focusing on his work outside of the Ellington orchestra, but also presenting him in Duke’s company.

Billy Strayhorn, the man whose musical abilities could have made him a star in his own right, labored in the shadow of a world-famous benefactor. This collection of his recordings puts him firmly in the spotlight for once, revealing beyond doubt the true scale of the debt owed to him by Duke Ellington in particular and jazz in general.

Billy Strayhorn Festival at Music Institute of Chicago Review ...

Strayhorn legacy shines at 2015 Jazz Education Network Conference in San Diego.

JEN (Jazz Education Network)  2015 provided a very good start to the Billy Strayhorn Centennial activities. The January JEN conference provided Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. and the Billy Strayhorn Foundation with several showcase opportunities that gave an impactful spotlight to  their  jazz education initiatives. Strayhorn family members led a presentation titled "Heirs to a Legacy", detailing the beginning process that led to Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. and its current day to day work involving music and print publishing, jazz education, Foundation outreach and preserving/enhancing Strayhorn and jazz music to a broader world audience. 

Conference attendees were also treated to a Strayhorn tribute concert performed by the Berklee College of Music professor and saxophonist Daniel Ian Smith. His quartet performed a wonderful hour long ‘Latin side’ tribute of several Strayhorn compositions.

Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. was also supported in its efforts by Alfred Music and Reservoir Media Managment. Print publisher Alfred provided 2 Strayhorn charts for raffle items as well as a handout listing the many Strayhorn charts they publish for musicians of all levels. Co-publisher Reservior Media Management provided a full page color ad for the JEN program book and attended several conference events in support of the Strayhorn legacy.

The 2016 Jazz Education Conference will be held in Louisville, Kentucky.





Smithsonian Jazz Appreciation Month Poster 2015

2015 Jazz Appreciation Month poster pays tribute to Billy Strayhorn

In recognition of Billy Strayhorn's importance and centennial, The Smithsonian Institution decided that their 2015 Jazz Appreciation Month poster will feature Billy Strayhorn, with a lovely portrait by the African American artist Keith Henry Brown, who designed the 2011  poster featuring Mary Lou Williams. The annual JAM poster is a big deal—it's eagerly awaited each year, sought after, and many schools and organizations post it for years. The poster will be distributed through the US Department of Education, to 35,000 schools, as well as to US embassies and consulates around the world, to Smithsonian audiences, jazz educators, etc.

2015 is another year of wonderful centennial birthdays in jazz. Along with Strayhorn, 2015 also is the centennial year for Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday.  

THE STRAYHORN ESTATE ON WNYU'S Strayhorn family members Leslie Demus and Alyce Claerbaut with WNYU radio host for 'The Phoenix' Brandon Peckman          



With the centennial birth year of Billy Strayhorn approaching in 2015, the legendary composer's estate is well into making its rounds to promote the artist's musical and civil accomplishments. In fact, wiith outreach and events including a birthday celebration at Pittsburgh's Kelley-Strayhorn Theater, a booth at the upcoming Jazz Education Network Conference and several tribute performances and media pieces already in the works, it is accurate to say that team Strayhorn is approaching the centennial with a running start.

In addition to working with co-publisher Reservoir Media Management to maintain and expand the impact of Strayhorn's catalog through performances, new recordings, and usages in visual media, one of the goals of the estate is to educate new generations of jazz fans, conveying the origins and impact of songs like "Take The 'A' Train", "Lush Life", and "Chelsea Bridge", whose sound young listeners might recognize even as they remain unaware of Strayhorn himself.

To that end, Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc. (BSSI) President Alyce Claerbaut and Billy Strayhorn Foundaton (BSF) President Leslie Demus--both nieces of Strayhorn--stopped by New York University's WNYU jazz radio show "The Phoenix" December 2nd to regale the liberal arts school's audience with historical insight and personal anecdotes about their revered and accomplished uncle.

Willie Ruff

  photo (Vincent Oneppo)

Willie Ruff remembers Billy Strayhorn.

French horn great Willie Ruff, has crossed the paths of many of the giants in the music world, including Paul Hindemith from the classical arena and Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Lionel Hampton, and Dwike Mitchell in the jazz world. Here he tells of getting to know Billy Strayhorn, and of their collaboration in bringing to life Strayhorn's final composition, "Suite for Horn and Piano", beautifully recorded by him with his longtime musical partner Dwike Mitchell.


... Of Duke Ellington And Billy Strayhorn: A Photo Journal Over Time

Billy Strayhorn: Beyond The Peaceful Side.

Alyce Claerbaut is currently the President of Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc.. In her role, she interacts with music publishers, producers and educators, particularly in jazz. Ms. Claerbaut is a Calvin College alumna and was instrumental in helping to bring Duke Ellington to perform in the Calvin Fieldhouse in 1967. Billy Strayhorn’s only solo recording during the Ellington years was a record called “The Peaceful Side” which features him on the piano playing the titles that he considered his favorites. Ms. Claerbaut helps to explore Strayhorn's life through those songs as his expression of who he was. Calvin College welcomed Ms. Claerbaut back to campus as part of their internationally known January Series, selected as the featured speaker on Martin Luther King Day (January 19th, 2015). View this historical presentation below. 




Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. and the Billy Strayhorn Foundation would like to thank all of the musical artists, music educators and jazz advocates who have contributed to the Strayhorn Centennial thru performances, workshops, presentations and all other various forms of tribute that has made this year of honoring Billy Strayhorn a continuing success. We would like to recognize several tributes from our events calendar that took place in the month of JULY.

*Bill Dobbins-Akron, Ohio

*Starlight Jazz Band-Tulsa, Oklahoma

*Novel Jazz Septet-Maine

Continue to check our events calendar and PLEASE support the artist and venues in your city that are working so passionately to keep the Strayhorn legacy and Jazz music ALIVE !!!


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