"Take the 'A' Train" is a jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn that was the signature tune of the Duke Ellington orchestra. It is arguably the most famous of the many compositions to emerge from the collaboration of Ellington and Strayhorn.
The lyrics used by the Ellington band were added by Joya Sherrill, who was 20 at the time (1944). She made up the words at her home in Detroit, while the song played on the radio. Her father, a noted Detroit Black activist, set up a meeting with Ellington. Owing to Joya's remarkable poise and singing ability and her unique take on the song, Ellington hired her as a vocalist and adopted her lyrics. The vocalist who most often performed the song with the Ellington band was trumpeter Ray Nance, who enhanced the lyrics with numerous choruses of scat singing. Nance is also responsible for the trumpet solo on the first recording, which was so well suited for the song that it has often been duplicated note for note by others.
Over the years the lyrics have contained many variations, as is not unusual for songs of this era. Those below are representative only, and may not be the original Sherrill lyrics:
- If you miss the A Train
- You'll find you've missed the quickest way to Harlem
- Hurry, get on, now, it's coming
- Listen to those rails a-thrumming (All Aboard!)
- Get on the A Train
- Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem
When I think of The Duke, John Wayne doesn't automatically hold first dibs on that appellation. I think of the African-American George Gershwin. Or was Gershwin the Jewish-American Duke Ellington...?
Duke Ellington: Take The "A" Train
And an extra added bonus: vocalist extraordinaire Ella Fitzgerald accompanied by Ellington doing "A Train" their inimitable way, riding the groove and swinging for the fences.
I particularly like Ella's scatting & "improvising" the line: " Pardon me boys is that the Chattanooga choo-choo? O no it’s the A train…”
Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington
Take The A Train