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Brian McKnight and The Duke Ellington Orchestra Perform at the Blue Note, Now thru 5/18

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R&B vocalist Brian McKnight has spent the better part of the last two decades on top of the charts, churning out one romantic hit after another for the Mercury, Motown, Warner Bros. and E1 Music labels. The multi-instrumentalist and 16-time Grammy nominee will explore some relatively new musical territory as a frontman for The Duke Ellington Orchestra from tonight, May 16 through May 18 at the Blue Note. The Ellington Orchestra will perform without McKnight on May 19.

Performances are as follows:  Wednesday, May 16 – Friday, May 18, 2012; Sets at 8:00PM & 10:30PM; The Duke Ellington Orchestra Only, Saturday, May 19, Sets at 8:00PM & 10:30PM; Brian McKnight, vocals (May 16 – 18); Ellington Orchestra, TBA.  Ticket prices are:  May 16 – 18: $65 @ table / $40 @ bar; May 19: $35 @ table / $20 @ bar

The Blue Note is located at 131 W 3rd. St, New York, NY 10012; Doors open at 6pm. Set times are 8pm and 10:30pm

Brian McKnight has earned himself a spot in contemporary music history. He has released 14 albums to date, with seven of them certified Platinum, and has sold over 20 million albums worldwide. In an industry known for a constantly revolving door of artists, he has easily established himself with an enviable record of chart consistency, toured successfully for over a decade, and collaborated with performers across every genre, including Quincy Jones, Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey, Diddy, Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber, Rascal Flatts, Nelly, Vanessa Williams, Willie Nelson, and Kenny G.

Born in Buffalo, New York, McKnight's musical career began in childhood when he became a member of his church choir and a band leader for his high school. By the age of 19, he had signed his first recording deal with a Mercury Records subsidiary, Wing Records. In 1992, he released his self-titled debut, followed by I Remember You (1995) and Anytime (1997). Anytime sold over two million copies and was nominated for a Grammy.

In 1999, McKnight released Back at One on Motown Records. His most successful album to date, the disc sold over three million copies. Successive releases like Superhero (2001), U Turn (2003), Gemini (2005), Ten (2006), and Evolution of a Man (2009) posted excellent sales numbers as well.

Along with several Grammy nominations, McKnight has been the recipient of American Music Awards, Soul Train Awards, NAACP Image and Blockbuster Awards, and the Billboard Songwriter of the Year award. He has even crossed the boundaries of the music medium into television, radio, Broadway, and even sports. He has hosted nationally syndicated television and radio shows, performed on Broadway as Billy Flynn in the hit musical Chicago, appeared on Celebrity Apprentice, and even played basketball for ABA's Ontario Warriors.

Of course, McKnight still continues to produce top-rate R&B as well – he released his 14th and latest album, titled Just Me, in 2011 and supported the release with a worldwide tour and live DVD.

Tonight at the Blue Note, McKnight performs with The Duke Ellington Orchestra, a world-class big band dedicated to preserving the legacy of perhaps the greatest jazz composer of all time.

Considered by many to be the greatest American composer in history, Duke Ellington and his music influenced millions of people over the course of his 50-year career. Thanks to a body of work that transcends boundaries and renews itself through every generation of fans and music lovers, his legacy continues to live on and will endure for generations to come.

Ellington liked to describe those who impressed him as "beyond category." Because of the unmatched artistic heights to which he soared, no artist deserves this description more than Ellington himself. He is best remembered for the over 3,000 songs that he composed during his lifetime – titles like "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing," "Sophisticated Lady," "Mood Indigo," "Solitude," "In a Mellow Tone," and "Satin Doll." When asked what inspired him to write, he replied, "My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people."

Ellington's popular compositions set the bar for generations of brilliant jazz, pop, theater, and soundtrack composers to come. While these compositions guarantee his greatness, what makes Duke an iconoclastic genius and an unparalleled visionary are his extended suites. From 1943's Black, Brown and Beige to 1972's The Uwis Suite, Ellington used the suite format to give his jazz songs a far more empowering meaning, resonance, and purpose: to exalt, mythologize, and re-contextualize the African-American experience on a grand scale.

Duke Ellington was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966. He was later awarded several other prizes, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and the Legion of Honor by France in 1973 – the highest civilian honors in each country. He died of lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974, a month after his 75th birthday, and is buried in the Bronx. At his funeral at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion: "It's a very sad day ... A genius has passed."

Although Ellington himself has passed, his music lives on, as does the orchestra that bears his name. A world-class big band, The Duke Ellington Orchestra continues to perform Duke's music at venues worldwide, preserving the legacy of one of this country's greatest National Treasures.

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