Duke Ellington’s America

book cover

Excerpt from the Duke Ellington film short “A Bundle of Blues” (1933) starring Ivie Anderson

(Quotes are from Duke Ellington’s America)

“A Bundle of Blues subtly makes the case that Ellington and his orchestra existed in a category apart from most popular music outfits, black or white. The film’s centerpiece, an extended version of ‘Stormy Weather’, shows this most convincingly. Ivie Anderson, the band’s vocalist, sings the composition calmly and movingly, with no vocal histrionics. She is presented as a serious artist, wearing a simple formless long dress, when most black women appearing in musical films at this time wore more revealing or ostentatious clothing that amplified their bodies and sexuality…Perhaps the most striking element of Bundle of Blues is its portrayal of black life. Rather than the images of gambling, drinking, misogyny, and abandon that black music commonly inspired in film makers, Anderson is shown in a rural setting during a dream sequence, standing in a clean, just-swept small house, watching rain fall onto the countryside. It’s a jarring contrast to the swank trappings usually accompanying popular musicians on film in the 1930s and 1940s. Over the course of his career, Ellington maintained that the media routinely overemphasized the decadent side of African American music…he demonstrated to attentive listeners and viewers a more diverse and truthful interpretation of blues and jazz culture through his music. In Bundle of Blues, he extended that vision to the film world.”