Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life

The composer of "Take the A-Train" and other Duke Ellington hits, Billy Strayhorn struggled with obscurity and prejudice as a gay man.

Billy strayhorn 01
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
February 6, 2007
90 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2007 New York Magazine -Best of 2007 Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2007 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Best Documentary
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    2007 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Music and Sound
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    2008 Writers Guild of America, West-Best Documentary Screenplay
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    2008 Peabody Awards-George Foster Peabody Award
  • Levi robert filmmaker bio

    Robert Levi

    Robert Levi is an independent writer, director, producer and cinematographer. In 2008, Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life became the first show in broadcast history to receive three important awards in one year: the Emmy for Best Documentary, the Peabody Award, and the Writers Guild Award for Best Documentary Screenplay. In addition, Levi received three Best Script nominations from the Writers Guild for his other work. His film Duke Ellington: Reminiscing in Tempo, premiered on PBS's American Experience, received an Emmy, and later played on A&E’s Biography. He wrote, produced, and directed Mott Street, a 35mm dramatic film short for PolyGram, and his work has screened at festivals including Berlin, London, Melbourne, Munich, and AFI. As a director of photography, Levi has worked with many directors, including Norman Jewison, Sidney Pollack, and Nick Broomfield. The first film he produced, the prison documentary Scared Straight, won a Best Feature Documentary Oscar.

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    The Film

    As Duke Ellington's co-composer, arranger, and right-hand man, Billy Strayhorn wrote some of the greatest American music of the 20th century. But as a gay man in the ’40s and ’50s, Strayhorn had to lead a discreet existence, while Ellington played to thunderous applause on center stage. Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life tells the story of the unheralded man who changed jazz and popular music forever, maintaining artistic and personal integrity, while challenging prejudice along the way.