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Don Shirley trivia: 50 facts about the eccentric musicians life!

Don Shirley is a black American musician and composer. He experimented a lot with jazz music mixed with classical elements.

A new movie came out about his friendship with Tony lip called Green Book.

So it is the perfect time to find out some facts about this talented musician’s amazing life!

  1. His full name is Donald Walbridge Shirley
  2. He was born on January 29, 1927
  3. His birth place was Pensacola, Florida
  4. Don Shirley’s parents were Jamaican immigrants
  5. Their names Stella Gertrude, a teacher, and Edwin S. Shirley, an Episcopal priest
  6. Shirley started to learn piano when he was two years old
  7. At the age of nine, he was invited to study theory with Mittolovski at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music
  8. His studies, also, were with Conrad Bernier and Thaddeus Jones at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C
  9. Don Shirley’s first lessons were with his mother on an old broken piano
  10. Shirley earned a doctorate of Music, Psychology, and Liturgical Arts
  11. He spoke eight languages fluently
  12. He was a talented painter
  13. For a brief time, Don gave up playing the piano
  14. In 1945, at the age of 18, Shirley performed the Tchaikovsky B – flat minor concerto with the Boston Pops
  15. A year later, Shirley performed one of his compositions with the London Philharmonic Orchestra
  16. In 1949, he received an invitation from the Haitian government to play at the Exposition International du Bi – Centenaire de Port – au -Prince
  17. There Don Shirley received a request from President Estimé and Archbishop Le Goise for a repeat performance the following week
  18. He was given a grant to study the relationship between music and juvenile crime, which had broken out in the postwar era of the early 1950s
  19. While playing in a small club, he experimented with sound to determine how the audience responded
  20. The audience was unaware of his experiments and that students had been planted to gauge their reactions
  21. During the 1950s and 1960s, Shirley recorded many albums for Cadence Records
  22. In these records he experimented with jazz with a classical influence
  23. In 1961, his single “Water Boy” reached No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100
  24. It stayed on the chart for 14 weeks
  25. He performed in New York City at Basin Street East
  26. Don Shirley met Duke Ellington, there, where the later heard him play and they started a friendship
  27. At Arthur Fiedler’s invitation, Shirley appeared with the Boston Pops in Chicago in June 1954
  28. In 1955, he performed with the NBC Symphony at the premiere of Ellington’s Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall
  29. He also appeared on TV on Arthur Godfrey and His Friends
  30. During the 1960s, Shirley went on a number of concert tours, some in Deep South states, believing that he could change some minds with his performances
  31. He hired New York-nightclub bouncer Tony “Lip” Vallelonga as his driver and bodyguard
  32. Despite their different personalities, they became close friends
  33. In the fall of 1968, Shirley performed the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Detroit Symphony
  34. He also worked with the Chicago Symphony
  35. Αnd the National Symphony Orchestra
  36. Don Shirley wrote symphonies for the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra
  37. He played as soloist with the orchestra at Milan’s La Scala opera house in a program dedicated to George Gershwin’s music
  38. Don Shirley wrote organ symphonies, piano concerti, a cello concerto, three string quartets, a one-act opera, works for organ, piano and violin
  39. He wrote a symphonic tone poem based on the novel Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  40. And a set of “Variations” on the legend of Orpheus in the Underworld
  41. Shirley was married to Jean C. Hill in Cook County, Illinois on December 23, 1952
  42. They were later divorced
  43. There were rumors that Don Shirley was gay
  44. He never came out during his lifetime
  45. He died of heart disease April 6, 2013, at the age of 86
  46. He and Tony stayed closed friends until death
  47. They died between months from each other
  48. Their friendship and journey through the Deep South is portrayed in the film Green Book
  49. Screenwriter for the movie is Tony’s son Nick
  50. Nick believes Don Shirley to be a pioneer of jazz and of the #BlackLivesMatter movement!


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