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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Duke Ellington’s Grandkids Say Sony|Is Holding Them Up for Royalties

MANHATTAN (CN) - Duke Ellington's grandchildren say Sony Music Publishing owes them $171,000 for 6 months of royalties from Ellington's works. The three plaintiffs - Mercedes, Edward and Gaye Ellington - are the children of the composer's only child, Mercer Ellington, who died in 1996.

Co-defendant Famous Music, which acquired rights to Duke Ellington's work, was sold to Sony in July 2007. After Mercer Ellington died, Famous agreed to pay 20% the "songwriter's share" of royalties to each plaintiff, and 40% to Paul Ellington, according to the complaint in New York County Court. The "songwriter's share" excludes royalties from some of Ellington's concerti and three musicals.

The complaint claims that Sony has admitted it owes $171,043 for the songwriter's share of royalties for June-December 2007.

"Defendants have nevertheless refused and failed to pay any of this amount to plaintiffs or to Paul Ellington unless plaintiffs and Paul Ellington execute release of other claims against defendants," the complaint states. "Defendants have no right to such releases, and plaintiffs and Paul Ellington have refused to execute such releases. Defendants' failure and refusal to pay to plaintiffs any of the amount admittedly due is completely without merit in law or fact, cannot be supported by a reasonable argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law, and has been undertaken primarily to delay or prolong resolution of this dispute and to harass and maliciously injure plaintiffs."

The Ellingtons are represented by Frederick Greenman Jr.

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974), perhaps America's most influential composer, employed a panoply of the nation's greatest instrumentalists, and was the first jazz bandleader to pay his employees year round, whether the band was working or not. In an interview toward the end of his life, Ellington was asked how he could keep a band of such talented and heterogeneous artists together for so long. "To keep a band together you need a gimmick," Ellington said. "My gimmick is, I give them money."

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