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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 »


Fred Waller


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


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) »


Short | Music



Did You Know?


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 »


Featured in It's Black Entertainment (2002) See more »


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
See more »

User Reviews

Terrific Little Gem
1 May 2011 | by Michael_ElliottSee all my reviews

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

*** (out of 4)

To think that Paramount would allow this short to be made and released says quite a bit considering the studio really didn't take a political slant in most of their films and there weren't many studios at all showing blacks in a positive light. Many have pointed out that Duke Ellington planned this as a true portrait of Negro life back in the day and this was to go against the "images" in Porgy and Bess, which had just been released. This short is broken down into four different parts with the first showing men doing labor with heavy bags. The second features Billie Holliday doing a song about her boyfriend going down the wrong path. The third sequence shows black men praying and the fourth shows people having a good time. I'd be lying if I said this was a great short because there are several minor problems but once again I was really shocked to see something like this being released in 1935. Ellington's score here is terrific and I really loved the dark and somber beats of the first story. The Holliday song was terrific and she did it great justice and the images of the story backing it were also top-notch. The fourth story doesn't have too much but then again it's not very long either. There's some nice style throughout all the visual images of the story being told so this here comes highly recommended.

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Official Sites:

Kino International





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 »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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