Black, Brown and Beige

Black, Brown and Beige is an extended jazz work written by Duke Ellington for his first concert at Carnegie Hall, on January 23, 1943. Ellington introduced it at Carnegie Hall as "a parallel to the history of the Negro in America."[1] It was Ellington's longest and most ambitious composition.

"Black, Brown and Beige"
Song by Duke Ellington
GenreJazz symphony
Composer(s)Duke Ellington


Known by Ellington as "B, B, & B" according to Irving Townsend in his 1958 liner notes to a recording of a later version of the suite (Black, Brown and Beige, Columbia Records), it received a preview performance at Rye High School in Westchester County, New York, on January 22, 1943, its premiere at Carnegie Hall the following night, and a subsequent performance at Boston's Symphony Hall on January 28. The JLCO performed the work in 2018.

After these performances, Ellington only performed pieces of it. At the 11 December 1943 concert at Carnegie Hall, he said, "We thought we wouldn't play it (Black, Brown and Beige) in its entirety tonight because it represents an awfully long and important story and that I don't think too many people are familiar with the story. This is the one we dedicate to the 700 Negroes who came from Haiti to save Savannah during the Revolutionary War"[2](referring to the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue). The band then played West Indian Influence, the section to which Ellington referred. After that they played Lighter Attitude which is a reworking of Emancipation Celebration.

There are many recordings of the Ellington Orchestra playing selections from Black, Brown and Beige. One of the themes of "Beige", Sugar Hill Penthouse was recorded in the abridged 78 rpm record album of the piece. Several selections appear in the series of broadcasts they made for the Treasury Department in 1945 and 1946.

In the 1960s, Come Sunday and The Blues were part of Ellington's 1963 show, My People. This celebrated the 100th anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation. Come Sunday and Light were part of A Concert of Sacred Music. Black was performed at the White House on June 14, 1965.

Musical form and characteristics

"Black," the first movement, is divided into three parts, the Work Song, the spiritual Come Sunday, and Light. "Brown" has three parts, West Indian Dance or Influence; Emancipation Celebration; and The Blues. "Beige" depicts "the Afro-American of the 1920s, 30s and World War II," wrote Leonard Feather in the liner notes of the 1977 release of the original 1943 performance.


  • The Duke Ellington Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943 (Prestige Records, a double CD on Prestige #2PCD-304004-2) - a recording of the January 23, 1943 Carnegie Hall premiere
  • Black, Brown and Beige - tone parallel to the American Negro (RCA Victor Records, 1943 selections - a 12" 78rpm double album set (RCA Victor SHOWPIECE SP-9 : 28-0400-A, 28-0400-B, 28-0401-A, 28-0401-B), the first studio recordings of Black, Brown and Beige; recorded and released shortly after the original live performances
  • Black, Brown and Beige (RCA Records, 1988 compilation) - includes 1943 excerpts, the first re-released instances of Black, Brown and Beige segments available on modern commercial recordings
  • Black, Brown and Beige (Columbia Records, 1958 release) - a reworked suite, and the most complete studio version of the suite, with Mahalia Jackson on vocal

Bibliography (further reading) - in reverse chronological order

Historical & analytical writings

  • Burrows, George "Black, Brown and Beige and the politics of Signifyin(g): Towards a critical understanding of Duke Ellington." Jazz research journal, 1 (May 2007): 45-71 ISSN 1753-8637
  • Gaines, Kevin. "Duke Ellington, Black, Brown, and Beige, and the cultural politics of race" in Radano, Ronald Michael ed., Music and the racial imagination (Chicago, IL, USA : University of Chicago Press, 2000), 585-602.
  • Tucker, Mark, ed. The Duke Ellington Reader (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), 153-204 reprints original 1943 journalistic coverage as well as later analytical articles. ISBN 0-19-505410-5
    Helen M. Oakley. "Ellington to Offer 'Tone Parallel'" repr. from Down Beat (15 January 1943), 13. Preview of the concert.
    Howard Taubman. "The 'Duke' Invades Carnegie Hall." repr. from New York Times Magazine (17 January 1943), 10, 30. Preview of the concert.
    Program for the first Carnegie Hall Concert repr. from the Duke Ellington Collection, Smithsonian.
    Paul Bowles. "Duke Ellington in Recital for Russian War Relief" repr. from New York Herald-Tribune (25 January 1943). Review of the concert.
    Mike Levin. "Duke Fuses Classical and Jazz!" repr. from Down Beat (15 February 1943), 12-13. Review of the concert.
    John Hammond. "Is the Duke Deserting Jazz?" repr. from Jazz 1/8 (May 1943), 15, accompanied by Leonard Feather's rebuttal in the same issue, pp. 14 & 20. Bob Thiele continued this discussion with "The Case of Jazz Music" in Jazz 1/9 (July 1943), 19-20.
    [Kurt List], review of abridged 1944 Victor recording in Listen 7/6 (April 1946), 13
    Robert D. Crowley. "Black, Brown and Beige after 16 Years" Jazz 2 (1959), 98-104.
    Brian Priestley and Alan Cohen. "Black, Brown & Beige." Composer 51 (Spring 1974), 33-37; 52 (Summer 1974), 29-32; 53 (Winter 1974-75), 29-32.
  • Tucker, Mark, ed. Duke Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige, a complete commemorative 50th-anniversary issue of Black music research journal 13/2 (Fall, 1993) ISSN 0276-3605, with articles by:
    Mark Tucker, "The genesis of Black, Brown and Beige"
    Andrew Homzy, "Black, Brown and Beige in Duke Ellington's repertoire, 1943-1973"
    Kurt Dietrich, "The role of trombones in Black, Brown and Beige"
    Scott DeVeaux, "Black, Brown and Beige and the critics"
    Sief Hoefsmit & Andrew Homzy, "Chronology of Ellington's recordings and performances of Black, Brown and Beige"
    Maurice Peress, "My life with Black, Brown and Beige"
  • Knauer, Wolfram. "Simulated improvisation in Duke Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige." The black perspective in music, 18 (1990): 20-38.


Massagli, Luciano and Volonte, Giovanni. The New Desor: an updated edition of Duke Ellington's Story on Records, 1924-1974, Parts One and Two. 1999, Milan, Italy.

Claude Bolling, Bolling's Orchestra plays Ellington: Black, Brown, and Beige, Frémeaux et associés, FA489, 1990. This is the entire recreation of the suite.


  1. This description also appeared in the original Carnegie Hall program, repr. in Mark Tucker, ed., The Duke Ellington Reader (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), 160-165.
  2. Liner notes Duke Ellington Live at Carnegie Hall, December 11, 1943 Storyville 103 8341
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