‘Halfway To Dawn’ spotlights Billy Strayhorn, gay-black composer who revolutionized American jazz

Billy Strayhorn, a gay composer-arranger and protégé of Duke Ellington, revolutionized the American jazz movement with his pioneering music skills.

Strayhorn also lived his life as an openly gay man during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, an oppressive and homophobic era.

“Halfway To Dawn,” a music and dance performance, recognizes the life of Strayhorn, who mostly shied away from the jazz spotlight and remains an under appreciated and acknowledged composer.

‘HALFWAY TO DAWN’

“Halfway To Dawn” will world premiere in Los Angeles from October 4 to 7 at the Redcat theatre. The tour will then travel the country and and conclude in Minneapolis on April 13, 2019. Tickets, $12-$30, are on sale.

Written, directed, and choreographed by David Roussève, the production combines dance and video imagery. Text describing Strayhorn’s life and historical footage give the production context while projected abstract video art expresses the emotional layers of Strayhorn’s journey.

Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn, a black gay composer-arranger and protégé of Duke Ellington, revolutionized the American jazz movement in the mid 20th century with his pioneering skills. Strayhorn also lived his life as an openly gay man during an oppressive and homophobic era. Photo: William Gottlieb

Born in 1915, Strayhorn began playing the piano as a child, as soon as he was tall enough to reach the piano keys. He practiced everyday, played in his high school band, and studied at the Pittsburgh Musical Institute.

At 24, Strayhorn met Ellington and the two musically joined at the hip. He worked with Ellington for 25 years as a composer, arranger, and pianist.

DUKE ELLINGTON

Strayhorn’s talent of assimilating Ellington’s music style was remarkable to the point where it was difficult to discern where one’s style ended and the other’s began.

Between 1939 and 1967, Strayhorn created up to 40 percent of the material for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, including the band’s signature song, “Take the A Train,” and “Lush Life.”

Strayhorn died of esophageal cancer at age 51 on May 31, 1967, in New York City in the arms of his boyfriend, Bill Grove.

Ellington established a scholarship fund in Strayhorn’s name at the Juilliard School of Music, and the State of Pennsylvania placed a historical marker at his high school that spotlights Strayhorn’s many achievements.

About the author

Lauren Torres

Lauren Torres is a journalist who has watched enough "Investigation Discovery" to be obsessed with chasing investigations through writing for the rest of her life. When not chasing investigations or aliens, Torres writes non fiction, collects anything Spider-Man related, and eats copious amounts of Hot Cheetos while watching "The Office."

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