By Alyce Claerbaut

Image“….Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine.”
– Duke Ellington

Billy Strayhorn is acknowledged as one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century. Strayhorn, the primary collaborative partner of Duke Ellington for 28 years, created a compelling musical language that transcended Ellington. His innumerable contributions to the jazz canon create a formidable legacy for musicians from all genres.

Strayhorn’s deep knowledge of both classical and popular music enabled him to create a unique approach to song writing. Elements of his harmonic sophistication and voicing techniques have become emblematic of excellence in the jazz repertoire. Alfred is proud to publish many of Strayhorn’s greatest hits, including a number of never-before-released transcriptions. For a list of current titles, click here.

In addition to his musical achievements, Billy Strayhorn has become identified with the struggle for civil rights. Throughout his career, Strayhorn overcame several stigmas, not the least of which being an African American artist in a society dominated by whites and a gay man in a culture where homosexuality was considered a crime.

In recognition of Billy Strayhorn’s musical, artistic and cultural significance, the Music Institute of Chicago, in partnership with Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc., a family corporation of the Strayhorn heirs, is presenting a Billy Strayhorn Festival on the weekend of October 26-28, 2012. The festival, occurring at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston, features performances by the Terrell Stafford Sextet, Music Institute of Chicago Jazz Faculty, and the Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble; a screening of an updated version of the acclaimed PBS documentary, Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life by filmmaker Robert Levi and a panel discussion, which will be moderated by Richard Steele of WBEZ and will also include Strayhorn biographer, David Hajdu. Click here for more information about the festival.

The year 2015 will mark the centennial celebration for Billy Strayhorn. Find out how you can help celebrate by visiting the official Facebook page.

What is your favorite Strayhorn song? Tell us in the comments field below.