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​New Duke Ellington Mural Painted Near Site of Historic Recording

Arts | September 15th, 2021

By Alicia Underlee Nelson

alicia@hpr1.com

Downtown Fargo has a new mural that commemorates a music legend and a Grammy-winning concert. Artist Jeff Knight completed a painting of Duke Ellington on the alley side of the Rhombus Guys building at 606 Main Ave. this summer. The mural features the composer, pianist and band leader at his piano against an aqua background dotted with other musical instruments.

The painting is just steps from the site of the Crystal Ballroom, which stood at the corner of 6th St. and 1st Ave. S. The municipal auditorium’s second-floor dance hall hosted prominent jazz and big band musicians and well-attended dances until 1957. The show Ellington and his Famous Orchestra played in the Crystal Ballroom on November 7, 1940 might just be a memory if two former college DJs, Richard Burris and Jack Towers, hadn’t gotten permission to record it.

Towers later made a tape of the show for a friend. The bootleg circled Europe in the 1960s and 1970s before it was officially released in 1978. It won a Grammy Award in 1980.

“I was shocked that I had lived my whole life here and had not heard of that story,” said Knight. He wanted to create a mural to commemorate that particular moment in Fargo music history.

The mural is the first in the Fargo Music Icons Mural series. It’s funded in part by a grant from The Arts Partnership in Fargo.

“That's when I looped in friends Cody Schuler and Gia Rassier to help with establishing a springboard with which we could make these public murals accessible so more people could learn about their historical value,” he explained. “Cody developed a website (fargomurals.com) and Gia is helping with the mural's inclusion on a variety of experiential walking tours.”

Additional murals are planned in the coming months. Updates will be posted on the website as details are finalized.

“We're hoping to do some more murals in the future with a Fargo-Moorhead connection, including Bob Dylan, Peggy Lee, and Bobby Vee,” Knight explained. “We're just looking for the right spaces and a bit of funding to cover those future murals.”

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