Event to explore Ellington’s symphonic triptych ‘Three Black Kings’


The International Center for American Music will host a virtual event at 3 p.m. Jan. 27 featuring a discussion of Duke Ellington’s final composition, “Three Black Kings,” with Luca Bragalini, professor of jazz history at the Music Conservatory of Brescia, Italy.

The title of the work and original reference is to the Black King in the Nativity and refers to three movements, each depicting a different “king”: Balthazar, the Black king of the Magi; King Solomon; and Ellington’s good friend the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In Ellington’s design, Martin Luther King becomes the third Black King in a biblical, universal connection. Bragalini will analyze the implications of the Black King’s imagery in art history, political thought, and the importance that religion has had for the African American community.

“It’s a truly suspenseful presentation,” said Aloma Bardi, founding president of ICAMus. “The Duke — Duke Ellington — left his score for “Three Black Kings” unfinished, literally on his deathbed in 1974.

“The destiny of this magnificent score was not always easy and smooth. But now, thanks to Professor Bragalini’s work, the original intentions of the composer have been restored.”

The webinar — a pre-recorded video followed by live discussion with the speaker — is part of U-M’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. Participants will explore the genesis and meaning of the score, the role of King in Ellington’s vision, with a look at art history — even including a visit to a museum.

Bragalini also will offer a second webinar with U-M and ICAMus on Feb. 1 titled “Jewish Blues in 20th Century Classical Music.” It will honor King and International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In this second presentation, significant connections will be discovered between the African American and Jewish musical traditions.

The event is sponsored by the Michigan Center for Early Christian Studies, in collaboration with the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and U-M’s Department of Middle East Studies, and requires participants to register in advance.


Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.