7.6/10
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7 user 1 critic

Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life (1935)

Unrated | | Short, Music | 13 September 1935 (USA)
Duke Ellington plays his symphonic jazz piece ('A Rhapsody of Negro Life') with his orchestra against slice-of-life background scenes. The four movements: 1) The Laborers, 2) A Triangle: ... See full summary »

Director:

Fred Waller
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Duke Ellington ... Self
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Duke Ellington Orchestra ... Themselves
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Storyline

Duke Ellington plays his symphonic jazz piece ('A Rhapsody of Negro Life') with his orchestra against slice-of-life background scenes. The four movements: 1) The Laborers, 2) A Triangle: Dance, Jealousy, Blues, 3) A Hymn of Sorrow, 4) Harlem Rhythm. Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

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Plot Keywords:

african american | See All (1) »

Genres:

Short | Music

Certificate:

Unrated
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Scatman Crothers is widely incorrectly reported as playing the jilting lover, actually played by Earl 'Snake Hips' Tucker, who also appears later in the short as a specialty dancer. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Jazz: Swing: Pure Pleasure - 1935-1937 (2001) See more »

Soundtracks

Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life
Written by Duke Ellington
Played throughout the movie by Duke Ellington Orchestra (as Duke Ellington and His Orchestra)
The four sections (with additional performers noted) are titled:
The Laborers
Triangle: Dance, Jealousy, Blues
Hymn of Sorrow
Harlem Rhythm - danced by Earl 'Snake Hips' Tucker
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User Reviews

 
Ellington's Vision
23 November 2008 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

I don't think that it was any accident that Duke Ellington wrote this Symphony In Black at the time he did. Right around this time the Gershwins and Dubose Hayward had done Porgy and Bess which purported to be a picture of black life. I suppose Ellington decided that his vision ought to be given a shot as well.

What fascinated me about this short subject was that it was done by Paramount Pictures which was not known as a studio that did topical films of social significance. This would have been something one of the smaller studios might have considered normally on a skimpy budget. But Adolph Zukor spent quite a bit on this considering it is a short subject.

We see shots of Ellington at the piano and with orchestra interspersed with various shots of black people just doing their daily routine. The setting of the working people might very well have influenced what was done at Universal for the Old Man River number that Paul Robeson sang in Showboat.

What we've got here is nothing less than an early music video presided over by one of America's greatest men of melody.


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Details

Official Sites:

Kino International

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

13 September 1935 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Headliners (1935-1936 Season) (#3): Symphony in Black See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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