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

Writers:

Milton Hockey (continuity by) (as Milton Hocky), Fred Rath (continuity by)
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Cast

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

I've Got Those Lost My Man Blues
Sung by Billie Holiday in the Triangle section
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User Reviews

 
A must for Ellington fans
29 March 2005 | by conn24hSee all my reviews

This review is really about the music and not the movie - although the latter stands up well enough as a period piece. The main deal is to see the great Duke Ellington orchestra in one of its best incarnations performing a collection of Duke's already recorded compositions (wouldn't exactly say 'hits'!) under the slightly self-conscious title of "A Rhapsody of Negro Life", or occasionally, "A Symphony in Black". The most often seen excerpt is "A Song of Sorrow", featuring the very young Billie Holliday (vocalist). The music is in reality "Saddest Tale" recorded for Brunswick earlier the same year (1935). Other delights for Ellington fans include "Ducky Wucky", and "Lightning". Aside from Ellington himself, conducting from his customary position at the piano, there are great shots of clarinetist Barney Bigard, drummer Sonny Greer, and especially trombonist Joe 'Tricky Sam' Nanton, whose statement of the "Saddest Tale" theme (with trumpet straight mute and plunger) is even better than on the Brunswick studio recording. They're miming, of course, but very convincingly! And it is actually them playing on the recording so its as good as you're going to get from the period. Also worth checking out, whilst I'm on the subject, is "Black and Tan Fantasy" from 1929. I believe this was the first all-black movie ever made, and also features the Ellington band - while they were resident at the famous Cotton Club in New York. Cheesy plot, but worth it for the band and the great dance routines! 10 out of 10 to both - from a musical point of view!!!


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