February 4, 2007
by Terry Carter

 

As a youth growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1930s and 40s, I had three role models: my father, Paul Robeson, and Duke Ellington. It was essential, particularly in those days, for an African-American child to have positive images with whom to identify, and to look up to. Wading successfully through the fetid swamp of racism in the America of those days required insight, self-confidence, ambition, indomitability, a thick skin, patience and above all, optimism about the ability to survive and prosper. I got all that and more from my idols.

Duke Ellington projected his own special dignity and excellence, eloquently counterbalancing the racist caricatures of African Americans that Hollywood was churning out. The knowledge that Ellington was up there on the very top helped me to get through those grim, depressing and uncertain days with my head up.

Later, as an actor, I felt a need to involve myself in projects meaningful to me. So, I opened an office in West Hollywood, incorporated, and learned all I could about film producing and directing. Among the challenges I faced, I was obsessed with the idea of creating a film documentary on Duke Ellington that could be a way of repaying a debt of gratitude. Making that happen turned out to require years of patient development, archival research and fund-raising. It has been one of my happiest professional experiences.

If you'd like to watch A Duke Named Ellington, you can now order it on DVD. Visit the official website: A Duke Named Ellington on DVD to order and/or to read more about this documentary.