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Testimonials

Dave Chappelle

Comedian, Actor, Producer

And the owner of the comedy club, and they were both saying, you know, “if you want to be a good comedian, you’ve gotta take acting classes,” and they didn’t explain it, but after that I went home and I said, “Mom, I gotta take acting classes,” and That’s how the Duke Ellington thing started. The school was incredible. Classical acting, modern acting, improvisation, technical theater, script analysis, script writing.
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Yvette (Erwin) Heyliger

Playwright, Producing Artist, Activist

Class of 1977: An Alumna Reflects on Duke Ellington’s Founding Years of Activism and Artistry

As 2017 drew to a close, I found myself reflecting on the occasion of the 40th anniversary year of the class of 1977. I think I can safely speak for all of us who were the first students to attend Duke Ellington, that no matter which department you were in—dance, theatre, music or the visual arts—the course of our young lives were forever changed by this exceptional arts high school experience. Perhaps what is little known by subsequent generations of students, faculty and school administrations, however, is that they are standing on the shoulders of our activism during a critical year of the school’s tumultuous existence, 1977. That year, we were in the trenches fighting for the very artistic and educational freedoms which current students at Duke Ellington are the beneficiaries of today.
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Maya Cunningham

Ethnomusicologist, Fulbright scholar, Educator, Jazz Vocalist and Visual Artist

Reflections on Mr. Bill Harris and Coming of Age at Duke Ellington

On Monday evening, October 15th, I attended a Celebration of Life in honor of my teacher Bill Harris, who recently passed away. We all go through life with many teachers. But there are always the two or three that stand out, that gave us extra care and who had the most impact on our young lives. Bill Harris was that teacher for me. I am writing this to honor Mr. Harris, his legacy and his memory. However, in order to do so, I must engage in autobiography, reflective ethnography, cultural analysis, and even spirituality. Please bear with me. William Harris III, who was known to his peers as Billy, and to his students as simply Mr. Harris, was a visual arts department faculty member at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Now, having lived in, and traveled, to many places, the name of this high school does not ring familiar, nor does it connote an immediate respect, for those who live outside of Washington DC. However, and a big however, for those who live in the DMV area, Duke Ellington School of the Arts garners immediate respect and even reverence. It is the premier arts high school in the area, made even more so by the fact that students must audition to gain admission. And so here I reflect on the power of an institution such as this to bestow identity upon its progeny.
Click here to read complete essay.