Every day multitudes of people drive by the Billy Strayhorn sign in front of the fire station in Downtown Hillsborough, yet many don’t know more about the iconic jazz musician than what the sign reads:
Jazz composer and pianist, wrote “Take the A-Train” and other songs for Duke Ellington Orchestra. Boyhood home site ¼ mi. W.
While Strayhorn’s friendship and collaborations with Duke Ellington are widely known, many don’t know that he also joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra at age 22. And though he was born in Ohio, his stays at his grandparents home in Hillsborough as a young boy contributed greatly to his musical development.
To honor Billy Strayhorn and give the community an opportunity to learn more about the jazz legend, the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough has partnered with NC State LIVE to host an event on February 26. The event will coincide with an event at NC State where the critically acclaimed dance company David Roussève/REALITY will be dancing to pieces by Strayhorn.
Alliance for Historic Hillsborough Executive Director Sarah Degennaro said that she hopes that the event will spark curiosity for Orange County residents.
“Events like this kind of hook you with a part of that person’s identity and then you want to know more about them and their experience,” she said. “It makes you want to know more about the African American experience in Hillsborough.”
The free event will include a Lunch and Learn discussion at the Orange County Main Library with David Rousseve and Tommy DeFrantz, an Artist Salon with David Rousseve at the Burwell School Historic Site, and a gathering with Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens.
Degennaro hopes this event will lead to similar events in the future that will spur a bigger conversation about the music and arts history in Orange County and the African American experience in Hillsborough.
“Whether it’s literary culture or musical culture,” she said, “the arts have always been such a huge part of Hillsborough’s identity and I think celebrating the arts, particularly the African American experience and involvement with the arts and how fundamental that is, is really important. This is a good opportunity for us to do that.”