(l to r) McHenry Boatwright, Anna Cherney, Ruth & Randall in Ruth's Park Ave Apartment
I first met Ruth in her home at 333 Riverside Drive, New York City, in
1974. She had heard that her brother had chosen me to conduct my own
music, leading his orchestra in an outdoor performance at Disneyland,
in California (1973). The meeting was a wonder to me, because I still
did not understand what had happened in that experience with Mr.
Ellington and his
beautiful, elegantly-appointed town house, her home had been Duke’s
residence. From the very beginning of our long friendship, she helped
me to understand. That one meeting with her helped me to focus, and to
gain insight into the initial calling that had led me to maestro
Ellington and his orchestra (see My Concerto Grosso Orchestration of Duke Ellington's "Black, Brown and Beige").
Randall and Ruth at the National Cathedral, Washington D.C.
About ten years passed, during which time I did not see
Ruth. Books, essays, papers, conferences, media stories and other
evaluations were written or presented by scholars and other
commentators. I made an effort to absorb this information, and tried
to further understand my own 1973 experience. In (or about) 1983, Ruth
appointed me to lead her brother’s Sacred Music. I was in the
east to visit my family, stopped in New York, called her and responded
to her invitation to lunch at her Park Avenue home. That is where she
would guide and mentor me whenever I visited New York. We shared very
similar religious beliefs and it was through these beliefs that she
nurtured my understanding.
Sunday soirees were important in her social life during
the years that I visited her. Between my cross-country trips for some
of her birthdays (July 2nd), visits to clubs with her husband, McHenry
Boatwright, the Tavern of the Green (our favorite) and the Sunday
gatherings, I enjoyed meeting her friends at these Sunday gatherings,
more than anything else. She would help me to anticipate future
experiences in meeting the demands of working and living in New York.
Duke Ellington Society members, producers, Broadway luminaries,
artists, etc., became acquaintances with whom I later had contact
through my Ellington-related responsibilities.
Randall relaxing at Ruth's
became friends with her family. Her son, the late Michael James, was
the Ellington encyclopedia-philosopher. I would (be forced to!) sit up
all night in his midtown-Manhattan apartment watching one-of-a-kind
videos and getting schooling that no university could provide. (!) We
had street smarts in common and had many laughs together. I miss him.
Stephen James, the suave, sophisticated, worldly son, honored me by
inviting me to speak and perform at St. Peter’s Church for Michael’s
memorial service. Stephen James is also a family protector of his
Click Below to See Randall's Interview with Ruth Ellington
The relationship with Ruth was briefly
estranged in the mid-1990’s, but was renewed quickly. I would always
secure her authority and approval when I produced and musically
directed the Sacred Music for her around the country. Douglas
Fairbanks Jr., the Alvin Ailey dancers, Savion Glover and Milt Grayson
were great to work with when she brought me to NYC to conduct the music
in 1987 at St. Bartholomew’s Church. Meeting Mercedes then (she was
the very young Savion’s mentor) was the highlight for me at the
concert. Mercedes Ellington is a jewel and a great creative talent.
her last years, especially after McHenry died, Ruth’s health gradually
faded. She had often implored me to move to NYC. My wife, Andrea, and
I finally moved to New York in 2003. Michael and Stephen privileged me
to visit Ruth at her home and when she was hospitalized. Because she
had such a spiritual force and guide as I presented the Sacred Music
through the years, I would sing selections from this beautiful music to
her during these visits. She had been my spiritual guide for 20
years. She passed away in spring 2004, just weeks before I produced
and musically directed a Sacred Music concert at St. Peter’s
Church, Manhattan in her honor (a co-presentation of The Duke Ellington
Society—TDES—, the Juilliard School, and the American Composers
Duke Ellington chose me, but it was Ruth who opened
the door. I am eternally grateful to Ruth Ellington. I hope that the
general public will eventually know her story, and how great and
precious a woman she was. Her brother’s legacy was her family’s
mission. She championed his genius and his contribution. I thank God
for her ministry to my life.
Randall at Duke Ellington's Piano at Ruth's Apartment
Copyright (c) Randall Keith Horton. All Rights Reserved.