The Duke Ellington School of the Arts, (established 1974), is a high school located at 35th Street and R Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C., and dedicated to arts education. One of the high schools of the District of Columbia Public School system, it is named for the American jazz bandleader and composer Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899–1974), himself a native of Washington, D.C. The building formerly housed Western High School. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Graduates of the school are prepared to pursue an artistic and theatric occupation. In addition to completing the traditional public school curriculum, students must audition for and complete studies in one of the following artistic areas: dance, literary media and communications (L.M.C.), museum studies, instrumental music, vocal music, theater, technical design and production (T.D.P.), and visual arts (V.A.).
The school developed from the collaborative efforts of Peggy Cooper Cafritz, a long-time member of the D.C. School Board and Mike Malone, a veteran of Broadway, off-Broadway, contemporary dancer, director, and master choreographer, who were co-founders of Workshops for Careers in the Arts in 1968. In 1974 this workshop program developed into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts at Western High School, an accredited four-year public high school program combining arts and academics. It is currently operated as a joint partnership between D.C. Public Schools, the Kennedy Center, and George Washington University.
Ellington currently serves approximately 500 students in grades 9-12. Most students commute in from outside of Ward 2, where the school is situated. The academic faculty is fully credentialed and includes seven Fulbright scholars, various PhDs, and DCPS's only national board certified teacher (NBCT) in young adulthood English/language arts.
Ranked as one of D.C. Public Schools' top high schools, Ellington's curriculum requires students earn 34% more credits than those at other D.C. public high schools. Students must maintain a minimum grade point average in both academics and the arts to be permitted to perform and, ultimately, to stay enrolled at Ellington. The school has a 99% on-time graduation rate.
Ellington's mission is to emphasize the arts as much as academics. It offers training in eight disciplines: Dance, Literary Media and Communications, Museum Studies, Instrumental or Vocal Music, Theater, Technical Design and Production, and Visual Arts.
The school is recognized for, among other things, its award-winning Duke Ellington Show Choir. Established in 1986, the Choir performs all types of music including Broadway, Gospel, Spirituals, Opera, Jazz, and R&B. The creator, Samuel L. E. Bonds, studied with Todd Duncan. Students in the Choir are required to continue performing academically, maintaining a minimum grade point average of 3.0. As well as performing as part of an ensemble, they are also allowed to focus on solo work. It performs a holiday show of Amahl and the Night Visitors yearly.
The Show Choir has traveled to Europe, Asia, and throughout the United States and territories. It has performed at the White House for Presidents Barack Obama Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and in both Mayor Adrian Fenty and President Barack Obama's inauguration. The Show Choir has shared the stage with Earth Wind and Fire Clay Aiken, Patti LaBelle, Jasmine Guy, Patti Austin, Beyoncé Knowles, Boyz II Men, and Denyce Graves. The Choir has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and sang The Star Spangled Banner for the opening of the Washington Nationals first baseball game.
Over 95% of Ellington graduates are accepted into universities and conservatories each year. Ellington alum have studied at Washington Adventist University, Howard University, Yale University, New York University, Harvard University, Manhattan School of Music, The Juilliard School, Parsons School of Design, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Pratt Institute, Berklee College of Music, The Oberlin Conservatory, American Musical and Dramatic Academy and among other institutions.
In order to be admitted into Ellington, students must complete an admissions application and audition before a panel. Upon passing the audition students take an academic assessment test, and complete a family interview.
In January 2010, The Washington Post reported that the D.C. government was studying a plan to relocate the school to a new site near Union Station. Jack Evans, the D.C. Council member for the school's host ward, advocates the plan as a way to move the school to a more "central" location relative to its student body, as well to allow the current Ellington site to revert to a standard neighborhood school. Opposition from students, parents, alumni, and others has been strong, including online petitions and a Facebook group with over 1,700 members. Shortly after The Washington Post report, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced that the school will not be moved in the near future.