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Daisy surrounded her son with dignified women to reinforce his manners and teach him to live elegantly.Ellington's childhood friends noticed that his casual, offhand manner, his easy grace, and his dapper dress gave him the bearing of a young nobleman, and began calling him "Duke." Ellington credited his chum Edgar Mc Entree for the nickname.Hearing the poolroom pianists play ignited Ellington's love for the instrument, and he began to take his piano studies seriously.

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Working as a freelance sign-painter from 1917, Ellington began assembling groups to play for dances.

"I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship, I should have a title.

So he called me Duke." Ellington went to Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D. He gained his first job selling peanuts at Washington Senators baseball games.

At first, he played in other ensembles, and in late 1917 formed his first group, "The Duke's Serenaders" ("Colored Syncopators", his telephone directory advertising proclaimed). The band included childhood friend Otto Hardwick, who began playing the string bass, then moved to C-melody sax and finally settled on alto saxophone; Arthur Whetsol on trumpet; Elmer Snowden on banjo; and Sonny Greer on drums.

The band thrived, performing for both African-American and white audiences, a rarity in the segregated society of the day.

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