Vernon Duke Biography

Vernon Duke (10 October 1903 – January 16, 1969) was an American composer/songwriter, who also wrote under his original name Vladimir Dukelsky. He is best known for "Taking a Chance on Love" with lyrics by Ted Fetter and John Latouche, "I Can't Get Started" with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, "April in Paris" with lyrics by E. Y. ("Yip") Harburg (1932), and "What Is There To Say" for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934, also with Harburg. He wrote the words and music for "Autumn in New York" (1934). Vernon collaborated with lyricists such as Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash and Sammy Cahn and his works have been performed and recorded by Count Basie, Bunny Berigan, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, the Modern Jazz Quartet, André Previn, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis, and many others.

Vladimir Aleksandrovich Dukelsky was born in 1903 into a noble family of mixed Georgian-Austrian-Spanish-Russian descent, in Parafianovo, Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. The 1954 Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians referred to "one of his grandparents" (Princess Tumanishvili) as having been "directly descended from the kings of Georgia". His birthplace, however, was a small railroad station in Minsk Governorate. At that time his mother "happened to be traveling by train". The Dukelskys resided in Kiev, and Vladimir's only visit to Saint Petersburg and Moscow occurred in the summer of 1915. The impressions of that remarkable summer were later echoed in Dukelsky's most daring classical composition, the Russian oratorio The End of St. Petersburg (1931–1937).

At the age of 11, Dukelsky was admitted to the Kiev Conservatory where he studied composition with Reinhold Glière and musical theory with Boleslav Yavorsky. In 1919, his family escaped from the turmoil of civil war in Russia and spent a year and a half with other refugees in Constantinople. In 1921 they obtained American visas and sailed steerage class on the SS King Alexander to New York; receiving his immigrant inspection at Ellis Island; on the passenger list, the purser of the King Alexander recorded his name as Vladimir Doukelsky in the French fashion. It was in 1922 in New York that George Gershwin befriended the young immigrant; Gershwin (himself born Jacob Gershowitz) suggested Dukelsky truncate and Americanize his name. Dukelsky's first songs published under his nom de plume were conceived that year, but he continued to write classical music and Russian poetry under his given name until 1955.