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Ruth Ellington Boatwright: 1915-2004
Ruth Ellington Boatwright
business manager

Born: July 2, 1915 in Washington, DC
Died: March 6, 2004 in Manhattan, NY

Duke's sister and business manager

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins

Whenever Duke Ellington attended special gatherings, one special lady was frequently seen by his side. She was not a wife or girlfriend, but his only sibling, his sister Ruth. Not only did they share a close bond throughout most of Ellington's life but, as Ruth speculated, her accompanying him to events reduced the likelihood of bickering among Duke's many lady friends.

Edward Ellington was sixteen years old when his sister Ruth Dorothea was born on July 2, 1915, in Washington, DC. She was still very young when he began his career and hit the road, so young that her first real memory of her brother was hearing his band perform on the radio. By 1930 Duke had brought Ruth and their parents to Harlem to share an apartment.

Ruth, who initially planned to become a biology teacher, attended Columbia University and graduated in 1939. She spent time in Europe studying foreign languages and writing a thesis comparing the teaching of biology in New York and Paris. While in France, Ruth stayed with famed singer Josephine Baker, a close friend of her brother. But her career plans took a turn in 1941, when Duke appointed his sister as the president of his company, Tempo Music. From the large home he bought her on Riverside Drive, Ruth maintained most of her brother's business affairs for over fifty years.

In the 1950s Ruth hosted a radio program on WLIB and became active in the NAACP. Under the auspices of Rev. John Gensel, she helped establish the jazz ministry program at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Manhattan. After Duke's death in 1974, his sister continued to manage his estate and business matters. In 1991 she sold a portion of his score collection to the Smithsonian. She remained in charge of Tempo Music until 1995 when she sold a controlling interest in the company to a New York publisher.

Ruth had two sons with her first husband, journalist and political scientist Daniel James. Their marriage ended in divorce. Later Ruth married operatic baritone McHenry Boatwright, who died in 1994. Ruth Ellington Boatwright passed away at the age of 88 on March 6, 2004, after a long illness. She is survived by her two sons, Michael and Stephen James.

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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