Duke remembered

By Deanna Cabinian

A nearly packed Duke Ellington Ballroom witnessed the venue’s rededication Thursday night at the Holmes Student Center.

The festivities began with the NIU Jazz Ensemble taking the stage under the direction of Ron Carter. The ensemble performed many uptempo tunes with a number of featured soloists. A couple of songs also had accompanying vocalists.

After a few songs and a brief intermission, the official rededication of the ballroom began. NIU President John Peters spoke first about the newly renovated and redecorated ballroom.

Peters said the night was about memories of a past concert and dedication, but also about the future. He said music is one of the threads that holds the American family together, and that the new renovations will help to expose future generations to music.

Bob Albanese, associate vice president of Finance and Facilities, spoke next about the improvements to the ballroom. He talked about the various upgrades, including the new roof, video and sound improvements.

“We believe our newly renovated ballroom will be an asset to our students,” he said.

Albanese said it would be an asset to the community as well. He then introduced a brief video that discussed the history of the student center and the ballroom. The center was constructed in 1962. The video also highlighted the fact that Duke Ellington performed his last full concert in the ballroom on March 20, 1974. Ellington died a few months later in New York City.

After the video, Becky Mandolini, an NIU alumna who graduated in 1980, spoke about naming the ballroom after Duke Ellington. While at NIU, Mandolini was president of the Holmes Student Center Board, which programmed most of the events on campus. The ballroom didn’t have a name, and she and the rest of the board learned that Ellington played his last full concert there in 1974. In 1980, they dedicated it in his name.

Paul Mercer Ellington, Duke Ellington’s grandson, spoke next.

“Duke Ellington is one of those jazz legends that shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said. He thanked the university for its support.

Peters presented Paul Ellington with a facsimile of the plaque outside the doors of the ballroom dedicating it to Duke Ellington, and gave him some NIU memorabilia, calling him an “honorary Huskie.”

Ellington then took the stage and performed a piece with the jazz ensemble. He played the same piano his grandfather played during his last concert.