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William Paul Gottlieb, 28 Jan 1917 - 23 Apr 2006
Billy "Sweet Pea" Strayhorn, 1915 - 1967
c. 1945 (printed 1979)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.2 x 26.7 cm (13 1/16 x 10 1/2")
Sheet: 35.3 x 27.9 cm (13 7/8 x 11")
Mat: 71.1 x 55.9 cm (28 x 22")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
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Composer/pianist Billy Strayhorn never achieved the celebrity that some other jazz musicians enjoyed in their lifetimes. Nevertheless, his composing and arranging collaboration with Duke Ellington over three decades yielded many of the most memorable compositions in the history of jazz. In fact, Ellington and Strayhorn worked so closely that it was often difficult to determine where one began and the other left off. As Ellington once put it, "Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head."
Among Strayhorn's greatest assets was a solid musical education that included thorough grounding in classical music. Doubtless that training contributed to the remarkably sophisticated character of many of his compositions and the echoes of such composers as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel that can be found in them.