Vocalists were usually given short shrift in Duke Ellington's Orchestra. After all, instead of competing with dozens of the best musicians in the business, the majority of solo-seeking singers would rather work for a leader willing to give them the features they needed to get their name out. And it usually worked -- most of the popular vocalists of the '40s and '50s used the big bands as a springboard to commercial success: Frank Sinatra from Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Doris Day from Les Brown, Peggy Lee from the Goodman band, and both Anita O'Day and June Christy from Stan Kenton. Though Al Hibbler was the only ex-Ellington singer to reach the pop charts with any regularity, the orchestra employed a raft of talented jazz singers: Herb Jeffries, Ivie Anderson, Joya Sherrill, even Bing Crosby (as part of a vocal trio during his early pre-solo days), plus the occasional singing horn like Cootie Williams or Ray Nance. Ebony Rhapsody anthologizes the great singers and the great songs of Ellington's career, from Cootie Williams' rough-and-ragged scat on "Hot Feet" to Herb Jeffries' irresistibly smooth title song to the all-black revue "Jump for Joy." The compilation certainly isn't perfect -- absent are Ivie Anderson's superior version of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," as well as one of Al Hibbler's best features, "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" -- but it's high time a compilation saluted the flair for blues balladry and jump swing that made Duke Ellington the singer's band.
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AllMusic Review by John Bush