Composer. Born Vladimir Dukelsky in Pskov, Russia, he fled the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution with his mother and arrived in New York in 1921. There he became a protege of George Gershwin, who suggested he change his name and study music in Paris. In the French capital Duke gained a reputation as a prodigy and at the age of 21 he became the youngest composer to receive a commission from Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. His ballet "Zephyr et Flore" was premiered in Monte Carlo in 1925. Duke was a prominent member of the Russian emigre community in Paris, where his friends included Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, and Fyodor Chaliapin. Returning to New York in 1929, Duke renewed his association with Gershwin and began contributing numbers to Broadway revues, including the hit songs "Autumn in New York," "April in Paris," and "Let's Take a Chance." He eventually made a name for himself on Broadway but found it hard to escape from Gershwin's shadow. When Gershwin died in Hollywood in 1937 while working on the film "The Goldwyn Follies", Duke was asked to complete the score; and his very successful all-black musical "Cabin in the Sky" (1940) was clearly inspired by Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess". His attempts at composing concert music (including a Symphony and and a Piano Concerto) under his real name went largely unnoticed. In 1957 Duke, a longtime bachelor, married singer Kay McCracken and settled in Pacific Palisades, California. He died while undergoing surgery for lung cancer. After his death he was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Originally interred at Woodlawn Cemetery's Mausoleum, Duke's ashes were scattered at sea, in accordance with his wishes, in 1993. His autobiography, "Passport to Paris" (1955), describes his encounters with many of the great figures of 20th Century music.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards