Eve Duke ticks because, at 91 years old, she still dazzles a lot of people by doing what she passionately loves to do – jazz – and her personality.
But hold on! Who the heck is Eve Duke? How good was she at jazz that she still gathers adoring fans despite being an old hag with a failing memory and pushed around in a wheel chair?
Can’t blame you.
Most certainly your were still on the floor, either crawling or sitting on your butt, a toy rattle in one hand and a pacifier in your mouth – a crying distance away from your mom who was doing household work – when Eve was making the rounds of big time entertainment as the lead vocalist of the famous Duke Ellington band
Duke Ellington was big in those days, one of the most famous bands, and Eve was part of his show – no mean feat for a young Washington D.C. lass in the midst of a nascent civil rights movement and communist expansionism worldwide.
She attended segregated schools and, in fact, became active in the civil rights movement, participating in the March on Washington in 1963.
Politics aside, she can sing.
Her way to fame was carved out by his father who convinced a nightclub owner friend in Washington to give Eve a singing gig. From there a member of Ellington’s group heard her sing and told Duke about it. Ellington checked her out when he was in town. The rest was history.
As Yvonne Lanauze, she went on tour with Duke and, in 1950, helped in recording three of Duke Ellington’s famous jazz pieces.
For three years, Eve performed with, and learned from the Master and originator of American Music.
That was more than 60 years ago…
Still jazzing and jamming to a different audience:
Eventually age caught up on Eve. She got married, and when she bore a daughter she settled down in Vancouver, Canada.
No details were given of a divorce but in Vancouver, she met CBC producer and film director, Daryl Duke, and both got married.
“Settling” for Eve, however, is not the same as ours. Instead of sitting around in front of the TV set, with a bowl of popcorn on her lap, or doing knit work, she formed trios and quartets and performed around the Vancouver area for years.
Just a little over a year ago, she moved into the St. Vincent: Lanagara, a seniors’ care facility in South Vancouver, not to “retire” but to have better comfort and care.
Eve says of her move, “I hate calling it that, because you think of some fogey, bogus old lady who can barely walk and looks like she’ll croak in a day and I don’t feel that.”
Now a typical day for Eve is sitting behind the grand piano in the corner of the foyer playing some songs while the staff and several elderly residents obliviously go about their business.
When she finishes a song, applause fills the room.
Being on the entertainment circuit for so long, Eve cant’ help going around. She hates standing still. And playing for the elderly residents of St. Vincent:Lanagara made that possible.
It has also made Eve their inspiration.
A Ray of Sunshine:
Eve, with her music, is like a ray of sunshine piercing through dark clouds of hopeless resignation to the vagaries of old age.
Leah Rosling, the facility’s music therapist, is dazzled by Duke and her talent
“I love working with her. I find her – well, she’s an inspiration. She’s an extraordinary human being who’s been – she’s seen a lot of her life,” said Rosling.
“She’s had tremendous courage, a very intelligent woman, extraordinarily talented. I feel like it’s a gift to come into contact with her and hear her play and her stories.
“Her playing is like a canvas of all kinds of shimmering colors that you mightn’t think to put together in a certain way. But because she does it so masterfully, it’s an extraordinary thing to hear,” adds Rosling.
Eve’s mini-concerts in the center’s foyer are a regular thing and it is always appreciated.
“She has many followers here, as far as her music goes, people who just love to hear her play.”
Ain’t Over until It’s Over:
Though her memory is failing (unless the conversation is about her days with Duke Ellington), and she’s pushed around, Eve is not about to surrender to old age.
When interviewed by the CBCnews.com, Eve says, “I don’t work as much as I’d like to and I think it’s mainly because I don’t put myself out there. At this true in your life, when you’ve done it for years, unless you’re very highly publicized, you don’t work, you know.”
But she still loves to form another group. She yearns to have a drummer and a bass player. She yearns to form a trio.
Right now she’s happy with what she’s got – playing with music therapy interns and staff.
What makes Eve Tick:
Eve doesn’t tick because she was a big name in entertainment.
She doesn’t tick either for regularly playing to the senior residents of the center. Anybody could have done that.
Eve ticks because of her zest for life and never letting her age get in the way of showing it.
Like Eve, many of us have memory lapses and wheeled around, but at 91 years of age, she doesn’t let these handicaps stop her from reaching out to others, making herself felt and useful.
Most of us have stopped chasing dreams and have settled watching the sun set upon us, while Eve is still chasing hers.
She ticks because she brings sunshine, not rain on the lives of other seniors.
And that I guess, is purposely living for seniors like you and I.
We are on the last act. Some of us were lucky to have created a niche in the hearts and minds of people early on.
Most never had, or will ever be.
But that does not mean we cannot make one in the final act in our own stories. Remember that it is always the last act that is given the biggest applause. The encore always gives the more appreciation; to be remembered.
It need not be playing better jazz than Eve. It could be something else. Though not as huge and monumental as touring the entertainment circuit, but significant and important enough to others if you give it the passion Eve gives to her singing.