Who is Billy Strayhorn?


Billy Strayhorn is one of the greatest composers in the history of American music. A virtuoso pianist, lyricist, and orchestrator, he is best known for his 28-year collaboration with the jazz icon Duke Ellington, from 1939 to his untimely death in 1967. Strayhorn’s distinct style was prevalent anywhere Duke Ellington’s music was heard. In fact, Strayhorn was a trendsetter who inspired countless legends with his forward-thinking melodies, lyrics and orchestrations, which have contributed greatly to the sound of modern jazz and the Great American Songbook.

He was an active participant in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, teaming up with personal friends like Lena Horne in social justice campaigns, fundraisers, and salons. He was close friends with Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and accompanied his private speeches with piano music.

Billy Strayhorn passed away in 1967 at age 51, a victim of cancer. After groundbreaking research unveiled his life story and music years after his passing, Billy Strayhorn’s family established Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc. in 1997, a new publishing company that has reclaimed and registered Billy Strayhorn’s music posthumously.

Famous Works by Billy Strayhorn

As a composer, arranger, and orchestrator, some of Strayhorn’s most famous works include:

  1. “Smada” (1935)
  2. “Lush Life” (1936)
  3. “Something To Live For” (1937)
  4. “Take the ‘A’ Train” (1939)
  5. “Day Dream” (1939)
  6. “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” (1939)
  7. “Passion Flower” (1939)
  8. “Chelsea Bridge” (1941)
  9. “Flamingo” (1941)
  10. “Clementine” (1941)
  11. “Raincheck” (1941)
  12. “Johnny Come Lately” (1942)
  13. “Lotus Blossom” (1945)
  14. “All Day Long” (1951)
  15. “Satin Doll” (1953)
  16. “The Star-Crossed Lovers” (1956)
  17. “U.M.M.G.” (1956)
  18. “The Nutcracker Suite” (1960):
  19. “Isfahan” (1963)
  20. “Blood Count” (1967)

Ever Up and Onward: A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn

In this eight-part video series, bassist and Colburn Conservatory alumnus Marlon Martinez explores the life, legacy, and music of this jazz icon.

Watch the series