Black and Tan
Vintage Black Cinema
Issue Date: July 16, 2008
City: Newark, NJ
Black and Tan was released in February, 1929, by RKO Radio Pictures. The short 19-minute film, also called Black and Tan Fantasy, begins with the legendary Duke Ellington composing a new song with trumpeter Arthur Whetsel.
Two movers appear who are sent to repossess the piano, but are convinced by Ellington’s singer, Fredi Washington, to leave the piano. Fredi, Duke, and the band then head to the nightclub for their performance. Despite Duke and the doctor’s warnings that Fredi isn’t well enough to perform, Fredi insists that the show must go on. Her performance is cut short because of her health, and her friends bring her home in hopes to cure her with music.
Black and Tan features a number of performances by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra including “Black and Tan Fantasy,” “Black Beauty,” “The Duke Steps Out,” and “Cotton Club Stomp.” The film is widely celebrated as the first screen appearance of Duke Ellington, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. In a career spanning from the 1920s until his death in 1974, he became an internationally known bandleader, Grammy winner, and inductee to the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
Black and Tan, the first screen appearance of Duke Ellington, was honored on a 2008 U.S. postage stamp in a set of five stamps commemorating Vintage Black Cinema.