[JPL] Ellington and The Road of the Phoebe Snow

Tom Reney tr at wfcr.org
Wed Apr 27 06:20:43 EDT 2011

The vocalist Phoebe Snow died yesterday morning at the age of 58.  She 
was born Phoebe Ann Laub, and according to her obituary, took her show 
biz name after seeing "Phoebe Snow," an advertising character for a 
railroad, emblazoned on trains that passed through her hometown of 
Teaneck, New Jersey.

I was always intrigued by the origin of her name, and attributed it to a 
Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn piece entitled "The Road of the Phoebe 
Snow," which is listed in the appendix of Duke's memoir,/ Music Is My 
Mistress/.  Its publication year is 1971, a posthumous copyright in the 
case of Strayhorn, who died in 1967. On the one or two occasions when I 
thought to look for it, I couldn't find any recordings of the piece.

But yesterday, in reply to a query I made to David Berger, Mark Harvey, 
and other Ellington specialists, I learned that "The Road of the Phoebe 
Snow" was actually a dance piece by Alvin Ailey comprised of different 
parts of Ellington works like /Such Sweet Thunder/, /A Drum Is A Woman,/ 
and /Anatomy Of A Murder/.  Mark Harvey recalls that the late Bostonian 
Herb Pomeroy, an expert in Ellingtonia who occasionally spelled Cootie 
Williams in the band, scored a performance of "The Road of the Phoebe 
Snow" for a production by the Boston Ballet.

Speaking of Ellington and Ailey, in 1970 they collaborated on/ The 
River/, which was choreographed and composed for the American Ballet 
Theatre.  It was Ellington's first symphonic score written specifically 
for dance.  A recorded version is available on DUKE ELLINGTON: THE 

Tom Reney
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