Duke Ellington's life and success were woven from the fabric of the black community in Washington that nurtured him. Ellington was born in 1899 into a middle class family - his mother's father was a policeman, his own father was a butler, sometimes serving in the White House. In his teen years, Ellington picked up keyboard techniques by hanging around veteran pianists like Doc Perry and Lewis Brown. "There were a lot of great piano players in Washington," he later raved. "It was a very good climate for me to come up in, musically." Ellington and his combo, "Duke's Serenaders," played their first gig at True Reformers Hall on U Street, and then he rode the crest of the dance craze. Quickly, he became a favorite at dances, parties, and band competitions. Later, he studied with classical musician Henry Grant, learning harmony and sophistication that became trademarks of his legendary career as a composer and band leader.