Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Duke Ellington, Blackwing
Johnson’s Baby Powder user

[Duke Ellington, Paramount Theater, New York, 1946. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb. Published in Down Beat, September 23, 1946. From the Library of Congress’s American Memory. Click for a larger view.]

Not a Blackwing pencil in sight, but this dressing-room scene is rich in detail. Notice the Johnson’s Baby Powder: another item that no doubt helped Ellington to create “timeless works of art.”

The context for this post, as explained in an earlier post: a pencil company’s choice to market its merchandise by using the Ellington name. The Blackwing is a celebrated pencil that California Cedar has recreated in replica form. The company’s choice to associate Ellington with its merchandise rests on a single photograph of Ellington with a Blackwing (the real thing, not the replica) that I posted on Orange Crate Art late last year.

We now have one photograph of Duke Ellington with Johnson’s Baby Powder, one photograph of Ellington wearing a sombrero, one photograph of Ellington playing a balalaika, and one photograph of Ellington writing with a Blackwing pencil. These single photographs do not support the conclusion that Ellington had any particular attachment to Johnson’s Baby Powder, sombreros, balalaikas, or Blackwings. In the absence of evidence of such attachment, capitalizing (pun intended) on the Ellington name seems to me a cynical way to sell pencils (or the other stuff).

California Cedar has removed Frank Lloyd Wright’s name from its marketing materials. It should remove Duke Ellington’s name as well.

March 29: I’m happy to report that Duke Ellington’s name no longer appears on the Blackwing Experience page. Thanks to Gunther and Sean for passing on the news.

Related posts
Duke Ellington, Blackwing pencils, and aspirational branding
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)
All Duke Ellington posts (via Pinboard)

[Some Ellington preferences: Beaujolais, Coca-Cola with extra sugar, coffee with lemon, hot water, Pall Mall cigarettes. These preferences are well documented.]

comments: 7

Elaine Fine said...

What a wonderful photo. I would say that it also qualifies Ellington as a mirror user, since the photo is taken in a mirror. And what about those ties and scarves. He was clearly a scarf user as well.

Sean said...

See that light in the right-hand corner? Well, I'm pretty sure this photo you posted is a lightbulb ad.

Duke Ellington was a well-known lightbulb user, see:

PS: I wonder if any brand name oxygen manufacturers might catch on. I mean, the man's gotta breathe, right?

Michael Leddy said...

There’s even a photograph of his ties, by Gordon Parks. And Ellington probably tied his ties while using his mirrors, eh wot?

Michael Leddy said...

Blackwing historian Mike Daisey confirms that said lightbulb inspired “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” especially the bridge, which I think is the best part of the song.

Michael Leddy said...

Here’s a link to the Parks photo that should work.

Gunther said...

I have just noticed that the Blackwing Experience website has been edited and the name of Duke Ellington has been removed.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Gunther, for letting me know. That’s welcome news.