50 Years Ago, Duke Ellington Wowed A Denver Church With His Ambitious ‘Sacred’ Concert

May 2, 2019
Photo: Duke Ellington publicity shotCourtesy of Legacy Recordings
Duke Ellington performed his Second Sacred Concert at Denver's Montview Presbyterian Church on Sept. 27, 1969.

1969 was a big year for Duke Ellington. The American jazz legend — who wrote standards like "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" — celebrated his 70th birthday and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Richard Nixon. 

And that fall, he brought his ambitious "sacred" jazz concert to Denver's Montview Presbyterian Church. 

Located in the city's Park Hill neighborhood, the church hosted two sold out performances of Ellington's "Second Sacred Concert" on Sept. 27, 1969. Getting the long-revered composer to do so took a shot in the dark on the church's part.

Photo: Montview Messenger Duke Ellington flyercourtesy Tom Cunniffe
A 1969 issue of the Montview Messenger advertising Duke Ellington's appearance at Montview Church.

The church sent a letter to Ellington's agent inviting him to come perform with their choir. Ellington took them up on the offer.

Jean Sibley, who sang at the 1969 concerts, and Waite spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. They discussed what inspired that letter 50 years ago, sharing the stage with the jazz legend and why Ellington called his "Sacred Concerts" his most important work.

Montview Presbyterian Church hosts a new performance of Duke Ellington's "Second Sacred Concert" Sunday, May 5, at 4 p.m.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Ellington wrote the jazz song "Take the 'A' Train." It was in fact written by his songwriting partner Billy Strayhorn.