(1903 - 1969)

Vernon Duke was Russian-born as Vladimir Dukelsky, a name he continued to use for his classical compositions and poetry. He began musical studies at the Kiev Conservatory, but the Bolshevik Revolution forced his family, with connections to Russian nobility, to flee to Turkey in 1920.

In 1921 he came to American where he met George Gershwin who suggested his pen name. He was commissioned in 1924 to write a ballet in Paris, and from there he traveled to London where he wrote successfully for the stage. He returned to the U.S. in 1929 and worked on his first Broadway musical, Garrick Gaities (1930), with Yip Harburg and Ira Gershwin.

In 1932 he wrote his first Broadway score for a Beatrice Lillie revue, Walk a Little Faster, which introduced his first hit, “April in Paris,” penned with Harburg. In 1934 he wrote the music and lyrics for “Autumn in New York” for Thumbs Up and collaborated on “What Is There To Say” and “I Like the Likes of You” with Harburg for Ziegfeld Follies of 1934. With Ira Gershwin he wrote “I Can’t Get Started” and “An Island in the West Indies” for Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.

When George Gershwin died suddenly in 1937, Duke completed the film score for The Goldwyn Follies with Ira. In 1940 he scored Cabin in the Sky starring Ethel Waters, whose show-stopping “Taking a Chance On Love” had lyrics by John La Touche and Ted Fetter.

After serving in the Coast Guard in WWII he returned to Broadway and collaborated with Ogden Nash on Two’s Company, starring Bette Davis. During all this time Duke, a prolific writer, continued to compose concertos, symphonies and ballets, wrote his memoir in 1960, and in 1962 published his first book of poetry.

This biography was most recently edited by...
maestro - 4 May 2009