Black, Brown and Beige (1946 album)

Black, Brown, and Beige, subtitled A Duke Ellington Tone Parallel to the American Negro, is a live album of phonograph records by Duke Ellington featuring the suite of the same name in live performance in 1943. Released under the Victor Showpiece designation, the album was the first release of the suite, which has primarily been perceived in retrospect as a botched attempt by Ellington to capture his feelings on race in the United States through music.[1] Consequently, it has been studied as an interesting work highlighting Ellington's complex relationship with race relations.[2]

Black, Brown, and Beige
Live album by
ReleasedFebruary 1946
RecordedJanuary 23, 1943
VenueCarnegie Hall
GenreOrchestral jazz
Duke Ellington chronology
Vol. Two

Black, Brown, and Beige
Duke Ellington Plays The Blues

Background and reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Modern Screen(very favorable)[4]
Radio Mirror(favorable)[5]
New York Herald Tribune(very unfavorable)[7]

Ellington's agency, William Morris, promoted the concert heavily, and articles appeared in Time magazine, Newsweek and The New York Times preceding the event.[1] When performed at Carnegie Hall in January 1943, the suite opened to both positive and negative reviews[8] – Some critics, whether approaching the piece from a Jazz or Classical music background, complained of the wrong blend of the two genres.[9] Record producer John Hammond offered some positive comments on the work, but mainly criticized Ellington for leaving the blues:

But the more complicated his music becomes the less feeling his soloists are able to impart to their work. . . It was unfortunate that Duke saw fit to tamper with the blues form in order to produce music of greater "significance."[1]

Music critic and author Paul Bowles, of the New York Herald Tribune was very critical, stating: "Presented as one number it was formless and meaningless. . . . The whole attempt to fuse jazz as a form with art music should be discouraged. The two exist at such different distance from the listener's faculties of comprehension that he cannot get them both clearly into focus at the same time. One might say they operate on different wavelengths; it is impossible to tune them in simultaneously."[7]

When the album was packaged and released in early 1946, both Radio Mirror and Modern Screen wrote favorable reviews, with the latter praising the composition for its ambition[4] and the former denoting the album "a must".[5] Billboard magazine offered a lukewarm reception: "While it may not be a great musical composition, nor hold the popular appeal of his other pieces, it's Ellington music throughout."[6]

Aside from the criticism of Ellington's technique, some have posed the piece was diminished by Ellington understating his feelings through music, perhaps for fear of damaging his image and reputation with white audiences.[1][10] Despite this, Ellington was acclaimed for his booking at Carnegie Hall being the first of its kind for African-American performers, and has earned praise for his attempt to use the event to spur a conversation on race.[1]

The album made no appearances on early Billboard album charts.[11]

Track listing

The live suite, recorded February 23, 1943 and edited down to 4 minutes per side in 1946,[4] was featured on a 2-disc, 12", 78 rpm album set, Victor SP-9.

Disc 1: (28-0400)

  1. I. Work Song
  2. II. Come Sunday

Disc 2: (28–0401)

  1. III. The Blues
  2. IV. Three Dances
         a. West Indian Dance
              b. Emancipation Celebration
                   c. Sugar Hill Penthouse (Beige!)



  1. "Black, Brown, and Beige: One Piece of Duke Ellington's Musical and Social Legacy". Symposium. 51: 11. October 1, 2011. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  2. "Biography by William Ruhlmann". AllMusic. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  3. AllMusic Review by AllMusic at AllMusic. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  4. "Best Hot Jazz". Modern Screen. Vol. 32 no. 5. Dell. April 1946. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  5. "New Records". Radio Mirror. Vol. 26 no. 1. Macfadden Publications. June 1946. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  6. "Record Reviews". The Billboard. Google Books. March 30, 1946. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  7. Bowles, Paul (January 25, 1943). "Duke Ellington in Recital for Russian Relief". New York Herald Tribune.
  8. Audie Cornish (February 22, 2019). "A Sprawling Blueprint For Protest Music, Courtesy of the Jazz Duke" (Podcast). NPR. Retrieved May 14, 2019. CORNISH: "I was reading that, at the time, this crowd included Eleanor Roosevelt and Count Basie and Frank Sinatra. And, like, this was supposed to be a big, revelatory moment from him. But it also, in the end, got really mixed reviews, right? He took a lot of criticism for it." MCBRIDE: "Right. First of all, you have an African-American bandleader and composer playing a piece about the history of the American Negro in 1943 at Carnegie Hall. That alone might get you a couple of bad reviews before you even play a note. I think there were a lot of critics who sort of deemed themselves experts on fine music, you know, classical music. So when you have this African-American composer using timpanis, violins but mixing it with swing rhythms, African rhythms, I'm sure a lot of reviewers had no idea what they were listening to. How do you write about something you don't know about?"
  9. Pierpont, Claudia (May 10, 2010). "Black, Brown, And Beige". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 14, 2019. Black, Brown and Beige" was torn apart by the major critics... Judged as jazz, the composition was deemed unrecognizable; judged as classical music, it was found "formless and meaningless," a series of poorly connected parts that did not add up to a whole.
  10. Pierpont, Claudia (May 10, 2010). "Black, Brown, And Beige". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 14, 2019. It is difficult not to wonder if Ellington's work was damaged by his holding back so much of what he wanted to say—if his unyielding self-control was not sometimes less than ideal for his art.
  11. Whitburn, Joel (2002). Pop Hits Singles and Albums, 1940–1954. Record Research. ISBN 978-0-89820-198-7.
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