In the spring of 1945, as World War II finally began to draw to a close, Duke Ellington began “Your Saturday Date With the Duke,” a series of weekly broadcasts sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department to promote the sale of war bonds. The sets featured classics from the Ellington songbook, pop hits of the day, obscure Ellington/Strayhorn compositions rarely or never recorded by the band, and pitches from Ellington and MCs to buy war bonds, along with occasional news bulletin interruptions. Ellington’s 1945 band, removed only a couple of years from the celebrated Blanton-Webster era of 1940-42, retained superlative musicians such as Johnny Hodges, Ray Nance, and Lawrence Brown.
The broadcasts continued through the late autumn and resumed early the following year; the one-hour programs were edited into half-hour shows that were then distributed by the Armed Forces Radio Service. Ellingtonian specialist Jerry Valburn spent 30 years tracking down the original broadcasts and restoring them to their full length. Many of the vinyl editions which appeared in the 1980s have been reissued in the past several years by Storyville Records as 2-CD sets, supplemented with other live Ellington material from the 1943-1954 era.
Two years ago I taped several month-by-month 60th-anniversary commemoration shows drawn from Ellington’s Treasury broadcasts for WFIU’s The Big Bands, and this week I’ll be posting one a day on the Night Lights site, as a sort of audio supplement to Ken Burns’ The War. Today’s program, based on the April 1945 programs, features “Blutopia,” a composition commissioned from Ellington by Paul Whiteman; the little-known tune “Frustration;” a memorial broadcast for President Franklin D. Roosevelt two days after his death in which Al Hibbler sings “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”; Johnny Hodges soloing on the ballad “Mood to Be Wooed”; Ray Nance performing the Ellington wartime song “A Slip of the Lip Can Sink a Ship” and the pop hit “Candy;” Joya Sherrill taking vocal honors on Johnny Mercer’s “Accentuate the Positive”; and Ben Webster stepping up on “Tonight I Shall Sleep,” taken from a 1943 Ellington war-bond rally.