This comment area is closed to new submissions. Visit to continue the conversation about this film.

Alonzo Johnson
New York, NY

I couldn't sleep last night and stumbled upon this documentary while surfing. I was COMPLETELY blown away by the story, the man and the beautiful way this was put together. It was humbling to see that my love for Duke Ellington was in fact for Billy. A new generation of music lovers needs to see this film and know the genious of this man. Thank you Independent Lens for bringing this to me. THANK YOU!

Patricia Miller
Stockton, California

My mother recently told me a story about when she met Billy Strayhorn as a young girl at a concert hall in her hometown. She also let me know Billy dedicated and sang to her which I am trying to find. The song is called, "I still see Harriet", my mother's name is Harriet Miller. It would be such a great thing if someone could help answer this question, did Billy Strayhorn write a song called the same. Thank you for your assistance and time.
Rick L. Koller
Lititz, PA

Late last night when the 81st Oscars went to commercial break, just before the last three major awards were to be presented, I stumbled upon Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life while channel surfing. So compelling was the story being told by Independent Lens of this American treasure, Mr. Billy Strayhorn, Hollywood seemed insignificant. Well done Independent Lens and thank you PBS for continuing to show this type of outstanding commercial free programming.

Nanette Mills (Dumont Twins)
Berea, Ohio

If you weren't moved and thrilled by this music........ face it......... you're dead! I was so excited seeing this documentary, hearing, remembering and realizing the greatness of the artists and their musicianship. I felt my heartstrings both pulled and caressed simultaneously. As an ex-"big band" singer, this had me reminiscing about those fantastic days,and I remember with appreciation how Herb Jeffries helped my sister & me (The Dumont Twins) by sharing his accompanist (Eddie Beal) for coaching & rehearsals. I remember that day Sonny Burke invited me to the recording session in Hollywood of Duke Ellington & Frank Sinatra (Francis A. & Edward K.)in 1968; and, the sound of the very haunting "Lush Life" has always moved me. When you see a film like this and hear music like this ... you feel so very exhilarated and alive.


I participated in "chat" with Dave Iverson, and we discussed Brooklyn Parkinson's Group, and Mark Morris dance class, which I am part. I'm told he\'ll be trying to come to Brooklyn to film us, and that I'll be interviewed if he does. I have a suggestion for him also to learn about my doctor's brilliant NYU partnership with Manhattan's JCC to provide a PD Wellness Center based in both venues. JCC provides PD classes in yoga, Qi Ging, pilates, dance, etc. Teachers are trained by NPF.Please ask him to call me if he's interested in theme of profiling these 2 superb parallel integrative programs in Brooklyn and Manhattan, serving as a template for other states.

Ellisa Henley
Nashville, TN

I happened across the Billy Strayhorn documentary last night, and I just had give kudos for a job well done. This was my introduction to Billy Strayhorn, being of a younger generation, and with only apassing knowledge of the music of Duke Ellington. This documentary was a pleasure to watch! What a soul Strayhorn had, and what genius! I hope more people become familiar with him, and seek out his works. I know I will! Simply wonderful!


Knowing a little bit about Billy Strayhorn already, i was very surprised at how much i didn't know, and what i saw and heard kind of shocked me. What Independent Lens gave me is a different view of Duke Ellington, totaly changed my way of thinking about him, while Mr Ellington may have been a musicial genius on some level, and he had had some success before Mr Strayhorn, i think most would agree that the real success came after he met Billy Strayhorn. Mr Strayhorn put Dukes name on song's as a co-writter when he really had nothing to do with it. So while Duke enjoyed the spotlight and the awards and the different show's Billy never got the recognition for his work.

But now don't get me wrong, i think as they say in this documentary, on some levels Billy needed Duke, which made for a very strange friendship. I think the biggest thing that came out of this for me is at 16 years old he wrote and composed LUSH LIFE one of my favorite song's, and i think that was the true genius of Billy Strayhorn, and not just that one song but his entire catalog his whole body of music.One more thing, if anyone get's a chance pickup "John Coltran and Johnny Hartman" and listen to Mr Hartman treatment of "LUSH LIFE" i think you'll enjoy it. Thank You.

Lance Dugger
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A truly wonderful overview of one of America's black musical treasures, Billy Strayhorn. The roots of Jazz are strong here in black Pittsburgh. Many of its giants were born, and or were raised here, so those of us who love jazz and other rich treasures in black culture, were always aware of his contributions to our music and to the "Duke" in particular. To state that his genius was unknown to those outside his immediate circle however, is patently false. Ellington himself, in the film, corrects Orson Welles on the misattribution of "Take the A Train". I think that Duke didn't mind taking some of the credit he probably thought he deserved, for providing Strayhorn a platform and a wonderful orchestra from which he could optimally present his music. Careful study of their relationship, I think, shows a sort of symbiotic union of these two jazz giants. As for some of the comments that not enough of the music was sampled, couldn't be avoided because of the format. It gives just the right balance to titilate the viewer into exploring this music and subject further. Bravo, great film!

Placerville, CA

I can't thank you enough for the incredible story about Billy Strayhorn, "Lush Life". I was spellbound by this wonderful piece, and just want to let you know how profound the impact was. Sincerely, Lance

Drew Thomas, MSgt. USAF, (Ret.)
Bradenton, Florida

Great program!! I had heard of Billy Strayhorn, but had no idea he was so talented as well as being so creative. Thank you for a wonderful show and tribute to Billy Strayhorn. I watch Independent Lens often and always enjoy your presentations.

denise georges
st. thomas, virgin islands

I saw a pbs special on duke and billy I fell in love with him he was so beautifull his music touch my being he had such a gift to express his felling into words that you think of but don't know to exprees just how you may fell I want to have everything that Billy has composed written played miles davis and billy are my music foudation i am an island girl that loves good music

John Naylor
Chantilly, VA

Wow! What a fantastic documentary! Kudo's to you for your massive labor-of-love on this project. I was aware of Billy Strayhorn's involvement with Ellington, but not to the extent that was revealed in the film..Thank you for selecting the excellent Diane Reeves whooung and knew how to sing these compositions to their best advantage. No one has mentioned it, but it was a real pleasure to see the short clip of a very young and beautiful Nancy Wilson singing one of his tunes. Would love to see an indepth biography of her someday.


In 1952 my grandparents and father arrived from Scotland, to Ellis Island. Wanting to fit into the American quilt better, they accepted the suggestion from some official during the in-take process, that the family change our difficult to pronounce surname for a more anglicized last name. Thus we became Strayhorn, at the time when America was quite a bit more introspective during the height of the Cold War. My grandfather, while not sure whether or not to trust the "Irishman", he never regretted having moved forward with the change. My father went on to discover why the name Strayhorn was chosen by the "Helpful" official, he believes it may very well been a joke played upon our family. I'm happy for it, and am quite pleased with the association, albeit round-about, with a great music innovator. It would seem that the vast majority of Americans with this family name are African-American, with a small number of Native-Americans. I believe the latter are the "White Indians", Cherokee, of the Carolina's, many forcible relocated during Pres. Jackson's the 'Trail of Tears' march long before our family came here. By the way, many Native People, Cherokees, don't carry $20 bills because Jackson is on it.



Lee Rosner
Arlington, VA

The Strayhorn: Lush Life film was excellent except in one way. The whole point of the Strayhorn documentary was how the guys behind the scenes (like Strayhorn) dont get recognized. So then the documentary does the same thing to its own performers: the credits fly by so quickly & illegibly that it is impossible to know who did what. In particular, that wonderful female vocalist was never given credit as far as I could see. Even when I finally found the short video on this web site, her name was too small & illegible. Thanks, however, to a "Talkback" Texan who revealed that it was Dianne Reeves, a totally fabulous singer who I did not recognize.

Paul J. Marshall
Sugar Land, Texas

For those that care - Diane Reeves is the "black woman with glasses and hair pulled up" in "BLLY STRAYHORN: LUSH LIFE" covering the composer's composition works in the film.

BILLY STRAYHORN: LUSH LIFE is one of the best life story of a Jazz composer. The film fairly chronicles the Billy Strayhorn journey as a composer, musician, human being. John Legend is another Ohio born gifted pianist musician with a passion to write good charts and songs.

Independent Lens, this was a labor of love to produce. GREAT JOB...

Dan Dickstein

Regarding uncertainty about the use of the word "gay" as code for homosexual, it was definitely in use between 1933 and 1936, when Billy Strayhorn wrote Lush Life. In the 1938 film "Bringing Up Baby," Cary Grant, asked why he's wearing Katharine Hepburn's frilly dressing gown, replies, "I've suddenly turned gay!" Since the adolescent Strayhorn was a voracious reader of any and all "sophisticated" materials available to him in Pittsburg, and undoubtedly intrigued by his own (closeted) sexuality, it is not implausible that he could have been familiar with the secondary definition of gay quite early. Moreover, since the song was unpublished, unrecorded, and unknown except to those who heard Strayhorn perform it in private, he may have continued to make revisions well into the 1940s. The first recording of Lush Life was made by Nat King Cole in 1949.

Eugene Mckeiver

I was flicking the remote late one night and just happened to land on this documentary. I knew a little bit about Mr. Strayhorn, but was blown away by the revelation of who this great man was who really didn't get the credit he so richly deserved. To the person who wrote concerning not getting the full treatment of the music, get the CD!!!! I know I will!!!

Hood river, Oregon

I was reading the radio program notes on Lush Life from the March 11 program introducing the film on PBS. I noticed the remarks by Mr. Bey about the song. It was interesting that he determined that the comopser may have used of the term "gay" the way we use it today. What I found curious was that Quincy Jones, who knew Strayhorn, says in the Independent Lens film that the song was written when Strayhorn ws SIXTEEN years old. And as far as composition, Lush Life was the "Holy Grail" of composition. That's probably about as much as we know about it and more true than Mr. Bey's remark. I don't know that they used that word that way then.

Max Womack

I hoped after the hours dedicated to Motown's geriatrically challenged performers you dedicated some time to jazz. Letdown is understatement. Knowledgeable talking heads but the focus on a negative focus on Ellington and Strayhorn's sexual orientation. Not one complete musical piece.I gave up after the first hour. Shame!

Margo R. Cary
McLean, Virgina

Thank-you so much for this forum. I had read his biography "Lush Life" and had been struck by his genius and modesty. His composistions are something special- and so was he. I'm so glad that other people are discovering his magic.

Orlando, Fl

Excellent. I don't know much about Ellington and never heard of Strayhorn but now I feel like I knew him personally. Kudos to IL and I do so hope that I can purchase the dvd as well as the soundtrack. Thanks!!!

Ann McCleary
Claremont, CA

We enjoyed the Billy Strayhorn show so much. The story of Ray Eberle and his years with Glenn Miller would be great. His contribution to the success of the Miller band has never been recognized properly, but I suppose there aren't many pictures to make up a story.

Mandell Klemmen
Los Angeles

This was wondeful documentary about a very important figure in jazz history whom I was completely ignorant about until seeing your wonderful film.

Alan Owens
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Strayhorn produced music that was traded or presented by Duke Ellington.BLOOD COUNT, LOTUS BLOSSUM and A-TRAIN are all music that Srayhorn wrote but Ellington was the boss.

LUSH LIFE is about the life Strayhorn got out of jazz music. The show LUSH LIFE was about the life that Duke Ellington ran but but it was Strayhorn who was doing all the living.

Strayhorn produced the product as jazz music but Ellington sold the product. People who dance or listen to Duke Ellington could care less about Billy Strayhorn.

Sam Jones

What a terrific film. You come away realizing what a unique artist Strayhorn was, which is a real tribute to the film makers. And I agree with all of those who loved the performances by the contemporary artists, particularly Dianne Reeves.

Bruce Kennan
River Edge New Jersey

Thanks for the great Strayhorn film. One of the best features I've seen on PBS in years. Should become a classic. Reminds me to keep supporting PBS.

Kudos to all who gave us the look at Strays and Duke.

C.G. Mulkey
Houston, Texas

It was enlightening to view this presentation from Independently Lens. It is a shame that our rich music history had to be distorted simply because of race. Such an American genius should be as well known as Duke Ellington, not just a later addendum.

New York, NY

All the pieces that I love have Billy's hand in them - what a genius of a musician! This romantic notion we tend to have of the world of jazz musicians is, in reality, not as rosy as it seems. I felt that this film captured a side of this period in history that many documentaries have failed to do. Thanks!

LaMonte C. Summers
Silver Spring, MD

Kudos to Robert Levi for making an exceptional film documenting one of the unsung geniuses of 20th century American music. Levi's unflinching and candid treatment of the multiple facets of Strayhorn's life and collaboration with Ellington, as well as Ellington's control/love/exploitation of Strayhorn, is a tour de force. The film's musical selections and presentations were absolute gems that stayed with me long after the closing credits had ended. Well done.

Carver T. Green
Baltimore, MD

Q1. Yes I agree. Many times you have to do things in the background hoping one day someone will recognize what you do and that being gay had nothing to do with having plain, good old natural talent and genius, especially if you have the double whammy of being b lack and gay. Lord! Heaven help you. I am gay and grew up in that 1940 period where Billy was just a quiet genius.

Q2. Thank God! History has put it right qnbd that the truth has emerged. Oh that Billy Strayhorn could just be here to get his just recognition. Ellington is Ellington because Billy was Billy and by his side.

Q3. I thik that over the years the whole world community has had to pay attention to the gay communi ty because we have certainly come into our own, a long, long, lobg way to go to the total thing burt certainly some of the world community has evolved, well except the black religious community. But then, Hope springs eternal for them as well.

calvin r roberts
los angeles cal

'INDEPENDENT LENS 'a HERO of mine MALCOLM X had a saying and that saying was too MAKE IT SIMPLE so i will do that by saying a THOUSAND THANK YOU'S for the GREAT bio of this GREAT ARTIST done by some GREAT film makers PLEASE give us more .


Michael Ebert
Levittown, NY

What a nice addition to the jazz musicological canon! I'm a diehard fan (and armchair scholar) of the Strayhorn-Ellington oeuvre, and I think Mr. Levi and PBS did a fantastic job here. I'm looking forward to purchasing the soundtrack CD!

Henry Letcher

The 'background', 'shadow', 'spotlight' nor 'fame' were created or controlled by either of these men.

It took two lifetimes and 50 years of one night stands to produce this body of work. There were countless contributors to the lexicon of this improvository music as it first appeared on earth. This was a good beginning in the understanding of the most influential and important offering, ever in American music.

All repressed communities, that survie are inadvertantly strengthened by their oppressors.

Steve Lockwood
Los Angeles, CA

Yes, it's true that Ellington and Strayhorn used each other. I was quite surprised to learn that Strayhorn wrote the score for "Paris Blues". It had to have been painful for Strayhorn, but Jon Hendrix said in this film, "I think he was like all artists, a prisoner of love." I think Hendrix got it right here. Strayhorn probably thought that to make trouble about the various unrealized credits would've been detrimental to the relationship. So he hung in there and gave America some of its greatest music. And America and the world is better for it. This is a great and poignant film. These people who created this music in the generations before and after the war are American heroes. People should who they were.

Julie Guest
Morrison, COLORADO

Fabulous Film ~ Mr. Billy Strayhorn is one of the most under estimated musician, writer, artist genius of our time. Mr. Strayhorn were alive today, the masterpieces he would have created would just be remarkable and timesless.

Louis Tavecchio

"When we speak of Duke Ellington's vast body of work, we are really speaking of the product of a collaborative process of creation, which Ellington shared over the decades with many of his musicians, and especially with Billy Strayhorn. Every one of those individuals is a part of the musical legend and the legacy we refer to as Duke Ellington. Without any one of them, that body of work would be different; without Strayhorn it would be vastly different and missing some crucial pieces. But without them all, there would still be Ellington himself and his undeniable urge to create, and there would still be an Ellington body of work, different but distinctive and personal. He was the prime mover and the focus of all the creative energy. He did not just give his name to a musical sound, he shaped it and defined it and caused it to happen".
The above quotation stems from one of the earliest websites devoted to Duke Ellington, conceived by Robb Holmes in 1996. I cannot think of a b etter appraisal of the world of Ellingtonia�. It also makes clear that Duke Ellington did not need� Billy Strayhorn. He had created some of the most beautiful music America has ever known long before the arrival of Billy Strayhorn (in 1939), and he continued to do so for years after Billy�s untimely death in 1967. But I totally agree that some of the greatest Ellington� music ever written stems from the fertile and creative genius of Billy Strayhorn. We are blessed that these two great men met each other and worked together for so long.

Lithonia Ga

I loved the documentary. Did not appreciate the aspersions heaped upon Duke Ellington for being a "cheat and a "rogue". Give credit where credit is due. Mr. Levi told it like it was. They were collaborators and liked each other. It was okay for Frank sinatra to try to horn in on the action. Billy Strayhorn made it clear that he liked and respected Duke. So do I. What about the way Duke's music was exploited by his manager. Billy and Duke were great together. LEAVE IT THAT WAY. BACK OFF MEDIA

Gregg Kimball
Visalia, CA

GREAT film, as usual for INDEPENDENT LENS! Any chance of an album project with Miss Reeves, Mr. Costello, ...?

Iris M. Gross
Edmond, Oklahoma

First of all, I congratulate the filmmaker on this exquisite portrait. I have read and gifted David Hajdu's book, and I'm glad he was included in this production. At first I was worried; I thought this was going to be one of those films where Billy Strayhorn was going to miraculously be alive again and narrating his own story, which would have plunged the film into a goofiness from which it would have never recovered. Excellent idea getting the great Dianne Reeves to periodically punctuate the film, much like she did in "Good Night and Good Luck"; as soon as I saw her I couldn't wipe the smile off my face! Also, I wish Ms. Lena Horne could have spoken for herself, rather than through her daughter, Gail, about her relationship with "Strays"; she is, to my knowledge, still around as of this writing.

To address the "Talkback" questions, especially the first one, I find it hard to believe that jazz music is any less driven by marketing than the more lucrative genres like "popular" music. They simply wouldn't have known what to do with Billy Strayhorn. What were they going to do, give him an album titled "Music for Lovers" and put his face on the cover?! I know of at least one other case in which a black performer's sexual orientation would have caused problems in the marketing department given the market for a lot of this music are white women! Jazz may be the American classical music, but even today the record labels are incapable of selling music without suggestive sex appeal, usually the opposite sex! So, in my view, no, Billy Strayhorn was right to stay out of the spotlight; however, whether he was right to stay with Duke Ellington is another matter, given that other people were obviously interested in having Strayhorn write and arrange for them. I think that was Strayhorn's one true creative mistake; putting all his eggs in one basket.

R. Smith
New York, NY

Thank you for this very thoughtful and poignant documentary. I learned so much. Watching this truly absorbing portrait, I was particularly struck by the deeper appreciation for complexity in both these men. I think this story has often been told in black and white, with Duke Ellington being the total villian and Billy Strayhorn being a total saint. This film showed that neither is true. Both were complex human beings - both USED each other for personal gain but both also loved each other. And I give Duke Ellington credit (sorry for the choice of that word considering) for embracing an openly gay musician into his world the way he did, especially back then, and letting the world know how important Mr. Strayhorn was to him. Yes he could have done better. But remember the times. Anyway, that moment when he is playing Lotus Blossom, marveling at its complexity and the brilliance of its composer, is priceless.

Lena Simmons
Norfolk Virginia

It was a living parable about "putting your life under a bushel.' There are so many people today that hide behind another person's shadow. His story parllels the role of the woman behind the great man. Einstein applied and took credit from his first wife. Homosexuality is a moot point in regards to his role.
Billy had the option to work with Frank Sinatra. Mr. Ellington put a stop to that option. Yet Ellington was slow to give full credit. I see this as a universial story about the need for love and acceptance overiding financial rewards and fame.
It is the human story of seeking love at all costs.

Bill Patten
Chicago, IL

I thought the film was excellent. Brilliant exploration into the life of a very complex genius. Of particular interest was the relationship between Stryhorn and Duke Ellington. I am not a big jazz fan, but I loved the movie.

Bloomington, IN

Wow!!! this was most excellent! Loved everything about it, the interviews of people who were there made this facinating to watch. I was moved by the genius of Strayhorn, and I was never aware of Ellington's methods and selfishness when it came to keeping all that in his back pocket. I will tape this, share it and watch it again and again! Thank you, thank you, thank you, I love Independent Lens!!!

Austin TX

I was blown away with this documentary. Thank you for the opportunity to witness this tribute to Billy Strayhorn.

Bryant McInnis

My 3 -year old daughter was pressing the cable box and stopped at PBS. That was Divine ! The documentary was absolutely awesome. I learned so much about one of the greatest composers ever (Billy Strayhorn). I'm a little disappointed with Mr. Ellington, but I still admire his accomplishments. The archival footage and music made the film a must see-again. Keep up the Great work.

Nancy Wilson
Bronxville, NY

I enjoyed this program so much that I watched it twice (on 13World). What a genius....I didn't know anything about glad he's getting his due. My parents' song was "Take the A Train". The first time I watched I thought Duke E. was taking advantage...after 24 hours and a second watching, I thought maybe it was more symbiotic. But, with Billy's early life circumstances, maybe he needed the security; also, maybe he left the limelight to Duke and purely wanted to compose.
Anyway...thanks for a great show, Mr. Levi!

joe Orlando
Boston Mass

Thank you for this tender, dark and luminous epiphany.Billy Strayhorn an alchemist of jazz and love.

Kenneth Yas
Thousand Oaks, CA

I was up at 4am in a Princeton, NJ motel, on a business trip, and caught this on the local PBS affiliate. The next thing I knew it was 6am.

I did my best to shake off the reverie this astonishing documentary induced and face the cold day, but it has been difficult, if not impossible, to force to the background the sublime impression this reverent but unflinching piece of work has left on me.

Lush Life is distinguished by the transcendant quality of the music, the pathos, good humor and tragedy associated with its creation and the generosity of the filmmaker in making room for the story to emerge as completely as it did.

I thought the Scorsese documentary on Dylan was about as good as it gets. Lush Life takes the genre to a whole new level.

Sacramento, Ca

At the end of the program, during the credits, someone in the show was listed as having passed away sometime recently ( after 2004). Who was this person? PS An excellent program. I am glad that BS is getting the credit he truly deserves.

From filmmaker Robert Levi:

Billy Strayhorn's youngest sister, Lillian Strayhorn Dicks, was born 1930. She passed away in 2005, shortly after filming her interview with us in New York. We dedicated the film to her.

Sam Rivera
Moore, Oklahoma

I just wanted to say THANK YOU for the wonderful programming. I was listening to Neil Conan today & was intrigued by the story of Billy Strayhorn. I couldn't wait to log on to NPR.ORG to read more. What a genius & how brave he was to embrace his life style during an intolerant time. I look forward to the PBS special & will definitely see the movie.

Prescott, AZ

I was totally amazed and enlightened. Mr. Strayhorn was a very talented and humble man. I will watch this program over and over, just in case I miss something. He so much deserved the recognition that was due to him while he was alive and for Duke Ellington to omit him during key moments was very selfish..

David Crooks
Prescott, AZ

Thank you for giving us this show (via Phoenix KAET). It was the best 1 1/2 hours TV my wife and I have seen this year and perhaps for a couple of years, about the most enjoyable and thrilling documentary we can recall - perhaps even better for us than your 2002 tribute to Kurt Mazur, your June 2003 Bob Fosse special, and perhaps even your May 2004 Balanchine documentary.

Craig Kois
Evanston, Illinois

How wonderful to finally get a more complete exploration of the life of Billy Strayhorn. I was impressed by the range of musicians and relatives who were interviewed and that David Hajdu was a part of the conversation. I think the relationship between Strayhorn and Ellington, though not ideal (what relationship is) did serve the respective needs of each and in doing that made it easier to maintain the ralationship than to walk away from it. The positives must have outweighed the negatives most of the time. Thanks for a wonderfully enlightening and instructive film.

Leinani Lind
Kailua, HI

I have enjoyed the film very much. However, the people discussing Strayhorn were not identified well or consistently. I can't get upset about the possible suppression of Strayhorn's contributions to jazz music attributed to Ellington. He was an adult male and made those decisions himself. It was very common for women to contribute to their husbands' artistic triumphs in the past. Now this is the past. Both African American males and females of all races are being honored for their own work.

Pamela Ray

Just stayed up way past my bedtime watching Lush Life (on Billy Strayhorn). Couldn't leave it! How very well done, emotional, and fascinating this was. Such an amazing talent. This was the most interesting television bio I've seen in a very LONG time, and great music besides. Thank you so much.

Lawrence Mooney
Sandpoint, Idaho

I was moved by this tribute--this study of an American musical genius. I have long known of the talent of Billy Strayhorn--Lush Life if probably my favorite song of all time--but didn't know the extent of the anguish in his life, and his subservience to Duke. To answer the first question, I guess it must have served his purposes, or he would have changed things, and he certainly wouldn't have returned to the orchestra after tasting freedom. As for the second, I think it's all too often true that the wrong doesn't get righted. Other "great" men have profited from the work of others, Edison, Westinghouse. It was gratifying to see Nicolai Tesla get at least some recognition for his numerous inventions. And third, Americans with Disabilities organization comes to mind. As does just about every minority community, including women.

Charlton Prce
Kansas City, MO

The Strayhorn program is and will always be a triumph, in many ways unprecedented -- because of the balance of the script, the use of the appropriate people, the honesty and attention to detail, the attention to contexts -- contexts including the Ellington orchestra, Ellington's persona and their relationship with its changes, the nature of the music business,and above all, constant attention to the music -- much more verisimilitude and sophistication throughout than the Ken Burns jazz series, or than other attempts to bring this broad area of modern American music to TV. Please make this program available on DVD, so that it can be used in music, the arts, political science, sociology,and other educational programs.

Editor's note:

For inquiries about future DVD availability of BILLY STRAYHORN: LUSH LIFE, contact:

Jon Margolis
Rapid City SD

A thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational film. The archival footage was music to my ears. Man these cats could play. And the cuts to contemporary musicians playing Billy's music also wonderful. As always the musicians receive not enough credit. The credits wizzed by at the end, too small to read anything on my TV. And there is precious little on this here website. I think we all know who Elvis Costello and Quincy Jones are. Some fabulous musicians played their hearts out and I wonder who some of them are.

Editor's note:

The full list of performers can be found on the Film Credits page of this Web site.

Beverly Nelson
Chicago IL

I don't know how to thank you for bringing this story to life. I am a baby boomer who grew up very few Black Gay Role models. Sadly, in the Black community the subject is still selectively taboo. When I think of the people who were and are blessed with many God given gifts but are afraid of being found out or have not been giving proper credit, it pains me. The sad part is these people may have the minds or gifts to cure some of the world's worse diseases. But we'll never know because the world still is not ready.

Dean Roberts
Portland, Maine

Regardless of what you think of the man's private life, the fact remains that publicly he was a musical genius. That's a distinction that is reserved for the elite artists of that era, especially in the African American community. You don't need to think about is lifestyle when you're in the comfort of your home or with company enjoying the sweet sounds of Coltrane and Hartman performing Lush Life. Thank you, PBS, for introducing this man to me. Because I, like many others, would have never known who he was or the fact that this beautiful music that I listen to is because of him; may his spirit and musical genius live on.

Mike Weston
Evanston, IL

I've listened to Strayhorn's and Ellington's works for many years and have read Hajdu's excellent bio of the former. The film seemed like a fair depiction of Strayhorn's life and his contributions to music. I especially liked the discussion of his arranging/voicing/chording, which produced so much of the unique sound of the Ellington band.

Two minor complaints. The "re-enactments" added nothing, and simply lent a patina of phoniness. Dule Hill is a fine actor but what was served by his appearance? Second, Gunther Schuller's comments at the end about what might have been had Stray outlived Duke were utterly without point. Strayhorn's work stands on its own as it is; to imply that he was somehow held prisoner (creatively) by Ellington is fair to neither man. Ellington provided a universe in which Strayhorn could extend his ideas. Strayhorn's ideas extended the repertoire and genius of the Ellington sound.

Nancy Hopps
Hinton, WV

WOW!!! Thank you so much for doing this much-needed film of Strayhorn.

Wendy Gerrish
Moccasin Ca

After Nova I left the tele on..and ended up watching the story of Billy Strayhorn and heard some of the most stunningly beautiful compositions that I've ever heard in my life. My thanks to the filmmaker for revealing such genius-thank you PBS.

James McKissic
Chattanooga, TN

I am so looking forward to this show. Lush Life is one of the most stunningly beautiful songs ever written -- definitely in my top 5. Can't wait to learn more about Strayhorn!

Evanston, IL

Great film! Wonderful exposure of Billy Strayhorn�s genius! It appears that Strayhorn saved Ellington aplenty when Ellington could not finish his own compositions in a crunch. No doubt that Strayhorn helped elevate Ellington�s prominence. For Ellington is was being at the right place, and knowing the right man, at the right time. Yes, it was largely in part of Strayhorn�s homosexuality that that match between he and Ellington was made. Strayhorn was a musical master and Ellington was his protector, and front man. For Strayhorn it was enough, sometimes, to hear his music played to the world, but I find it hard to believe that if the two were as one as far as music is concerned, why not share more of the credit.

Robert Galperin
East Brunswick, NJ

After viewing the program, I felt that Strayhorn was Mozart to Ellington as just a glorified conductor. Ellington had wronged Strayhorn, not giving him credit, and not compensating him adequately. I think a case could be made that this helped drive Billy to destructive behavior that ultimately led to his untimely death. I think that the Ellington Estate should rectify the situation by re authoring the music that rightfully belongs to Strayhorn, and paying back some back royalties. A further gesture of taking some of this money to go to a fund for struggling composers in Strayhorn's name would also be a find gesture.

Julius Stanley

I was moved at the genius of this artist, his creativity and soul were made evident through the music he created. We, as a culture, have benefit from his art. America stands as a power in the eyes of the world; it is easy to forget that America is the collective struggle of its citizens, with human expressions and thoughts. Because of the global industries and military power we represent, the individual American can be veiled by this global perceptiion. Mr. Strayhorn's music is an expression of our humanity that will never be silenced. Thank you for being the Voice of America, in your airing of this film.

Alice Sparberg Alexiou
Bellmore, NY

Thank you for this wonderful documentary. The story is about so many things--race, sexuality, musical genius, and, most of all, the endlessly complicated relationship between two great artists--and they all matter. What struck me most of all is how exquisitely the writer of this film controlled the material. The story has so many details and angles, yet the writer(s) never lost the take. The film was smooth and seemed effortless, which, ironically, shows how very, very, very hard everybody involved in this production had to have worked to pull it off.

(I'm a writer so I know about the process!) A-Train is one of my favorite tunes, and now it means so much more to me than before I viewed "Lush Life." Again, thank you. Alice Sparberg Alexiou, author, Jane Jacobs, Urban Visionary (Rutger Univ. Press 2006)

Marshall, NC
Houston, TX

I enjoyed this very good program. Thank you.

Anthony G
Houston, TX

Beautiful, just the fact that we keep learning about extraordinary influences that were either gay or questionable changes my thinking. The MAN was a treat to listen to. Yes it is hard to tell if it was Sweet Pea or Duke but it is easier to tell Duke from Sweet Pea (lol).

Kansas City, Mo
Oakland, NJ

1. Somewhat. In one aspect, he needed a portion of his life to exist in the background only, unfortunately Duke was aware of this and exploited it.

2. While contending with racism during the 30s and 40s lab technician Vivien Thomas works with Dr. Alfred Blaloch to correct the narrowing indentation of the left side of the aortic arch (Blue Babies).

In both stories where there existed an opportunity to promote the other they chose not too for selfish reasons whether for fame or monetary.

3. Holland - What comes to mind is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a symbol of international debate on the plight of Muslim women against the Koran's harshness toward these women including genital mutilation.

Editor's note:

View the Talkback questions.

Dave Sandler
Oakland, NJ

This was simply one of the finest documentaries i have ever viewed. Kudos to all involved. Put his life and work in context. The selection of highlighted pieces from lush Life thru Chelsea Bridge and the Nutcracker was right on target. Much as i revere Ellington, the body of work must be viewed as joint for the entire period they worked together. Too bad he was taken much too soon.

On the question - yes, I do believe Ellington exploited Stray. But he also gave him exposure and an opportunity to grow that never would have otherwise materialized. If it was in him to let go, he would have moved on.

Harold Ramse

An ultimate treat for all people. I learned of the broadcast from jazzbeat mag.


I truly enjoyed this PBS program that acknowledged the genius of Billy Strayhorn. May this tribute to Strayhorn introduce a new generation to his brilliance and continue to shine light on his contribution to all genres of music.

Smithtown, NY.

The Strayhorn special reminded me of the beauty he brought to the world and of how a few notes put together the right way can define a feeling.I feel like I can get up tomorrow and face another day. Thank you.

James McKissic
Chattanooga, TN

I am so looking forward to this show. Lush Life is one of the most stunningly beautiful songs ever written -- definitely in my top 5. Can't wait to learn more about Strayhorn!

Brockton, MA

I have some mixed feelings on the music and life of Billy Strayhorn. On the one hand I feel that his creativity and musical genesis should have been showcased and he given his rightful credits. On the other hand homosexuality unlike today was generally unacceptable except by a few contemporaries Perhaps of that prejudice and possible notoriety his genesis might have been stymied. In any event thanks for bringing his works to this generation of music lovers and no doubt enlighten to their lives.

Brockton, MA

I have some mixed feelings on the music and life of Billy Strayhorn. On the one hand I feel that his creativity and musical genesis should have been showcased and he given his rightful credits. On the other hand homosexuality unlike today was generally unacceptable except by a few contemporaries Perhaps of that prejudice and possible notoriety his genesis might have been stymied. In any event thanks for bringing his works to this generation of music lovers and no doubt enlighten to their lives.

Tell a Friend top

Home | The Film | Billy Strayhorn | The Music | Filmmaker Bio | Filmmaker Q&A | Learn More | Talkback | Site Credits

Get The DVD Talkback Learn More Filmmaker Q&A Filmmaker Bio The Music Billy Strayhorn The Film Explore the music of Billy Strayhorn BILLY STRAYHORN: LUSH LIFE More >>