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Written by David Palmquist
in consultation with
Ann Maguire Keches
The photos from Juan and Rosebud Tizol's collection
and Sonny Greer's scrapbook are
courtesy of Steven Lasker
Last updated 2021-07-12

(the Tizol collection) Click to Enlarge

(the Tizol collection) Click to Enlarge

The Duke – Where and When

Mildred Dixon
( November 21, 1904 - September 18, 2001 )

1904 11 212001 09 18Boston, Mass.
Mildred Dixon
(in Wikipedia)
Click to Enlarge

(Sonny Greer's scrapbook)
Click to Enlarge

(the Tizol collection)
Click to Enlarge

(the Tizol collection)
Click to Enlarge

Mildred Teresa Dixon, who would become Duke Ellington's first common-law wife around 1930, was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 21, 1904.(1)

She was baptized April 2, 1905 at Church of St. Augustines in Boston, sponsored by Sister Anna Maria and Theresa Perkins.(2)

  • Exactly when she and Duke began living together is not documented; while she is not listed at 381 Edgecombe Ave. in the 1930 U.S. census, it appears to have been in early 1930 - see the entry for 1930 00 00 in The Duke - Where and When.

  • Despite "socially correct" statements in the media when Ellington died, he did not divorce his wife Edna and marry Mildred. He remained married to Edna until her death in 1967.

  • Ellington left Mildred in 1938 to live with Bea Ellis, otherwise known as Evie.

  • She remained friends with Ruth Ellington into old age and referred to Mercer Ellington as her godson.(2)

  • In 1941, Mildred was reported to be living with Margaret Whetsel, widow of the late trumpet player with Ellington.(3)

  • She was reported to have married a Stanley Stingle in 1942.(4)

  • In 1950, Ellington reactivated his dormant music publishing company Tempo Music Ltd. with Ruth Ellington as president and Mildred as manager. The New York Age said Mildred had been affiliated with it for five years.(5)

  • She married George Nicholas Manos (also known as Dardamanelis) in 1956.(2) How her previous marriage ended is not yet documented.

  • The 1910 census lists Mildred as the granddaughter of the head of the house, John J. Dixon. He is described as a widower, aged 47, born in Canada, immigrated in 1881. Mildred's mother was Ethel M. Dixon, listed as a daughter in that household, single, aged 25, born in Massachusetts, mother of one.

  • Mildred's father is not named on her birth certificate or in the 1910 census; in Mildred's 1910 census entry, however, he is reported to be Italian. The race of all members of the household is listed as B except Mildred, listed as Mu.

  • Mildred's mother, uncle, aunt and grandparents are in Boston in the 1900 census. Ethel was born in Massachusetts in December 1884; the grandfather and grandmother in Canada in 1861 and 1864 respectively. Their entries say their parents were also born in Canada.

  • Mildred left home in her mid-teens,(2) and became a dancer at the Cotton Club around 1926, dancing with Henri Wessels in a duo billed as "Mildred and Henri" and "Henri & La Perl.(6)" She was dancing at the Cotton Club when Ellington began there; their team was referred to as Henri Wessels and La Pearl by Kay O'Hara in her 1927-12-06 Morning Telegraph review of the Dec. 4 Cotton Club opening night. She described herself as an "adagio dancer" – slow graceful movements to be distinguished from other dancers at the Club, akin to ballroom dancing.(2)

  • Sonny Greer is quoted as saying Mildred and Duke would often play cards with the Cotton Club bosses.

  • Mercer Ellington:

    ' It was a dancer who greeted me when I arrived at 381 Edgecombe Avenue. Pop had met Mildred Dixon when he first opened at the Cotton Club, where she was dancing with Henri Wesson [recte Wessels] in a duo billed as "Mildred and Henri," esteemed as one of the finest professional "ballroom" dance acts in the country. Mil was petite, with long black hair swept back into a bun, ballerina style. Her finely chiseled features and luminous dark eyes somehow suggested the East Indies. She had innate class comparable to Ellington's own, and he showed her great courtesy, attention, and affection.

    Her devotion was obvious, and they made a graceful pair.

    She was intelligent and had a gift for diplomacy that made for friends in every quarter. She was popular with those he dealt with in the business and was trusted, even respected, by the band wives.

    ... a number of them took a leaf from her book in the way she closed her eyes to any aspect of Pop's life that could reflect badly on her. Another thing, she didn't gossip, and that was important to everyone, particularly the musicians, because Ellington was about the only one whose woman accompanied him regularly on tour, the only one who knew all that went on. Mil always carried herself like the lady she genuinely was, and in time she gained everyone's confidence. She was a real asset to Pop, his "Sweet Bebe." In those days, when he enjoyed eating and drinking, he was heavier, and she often looked minuscule beside him. So he called her "Tubby," which was the kind of teasing she liked.

    ...[After the separation] Ruth and I were left at 381 Edgecombe Avenue with Mil. After he and Mil had come to the parting of the ways, we realized that if we didn't change our residence he would never come back to live with us, or even to visit us, because he didn't want to come back to face Mil. So we left the apartment, left all the furniture and everything with Mil, and moved farther up the street... '

  • A caution. There were two entertainers named "Mildred Dixon" in the press. Searching newspaper archives for that name will result in thousands of "hits," the majority of which relate to other individuals of the same name.

  • (1) Birth registry
  • (2) Emails, Ann Maguire - Palmquist, early 2016
  • (3) New York Age 1941-01-25 p.4
  • (4)Billy Rowe's Notebook, Pittsburgh Courier 1942-05-30 p.20 (incorrectly dated 1943-05-30)
  • (5)
    • Duke's Sister Heads Revived Music Company, Pittsburgh Courier 1950 -08-12 p.21
    • Ellington's Tempo Music Reactivated, The Billboard, 1950-08-12 p.20
    • Music Comany Sets Up Again,New York Age, 1950-08-12 p.8
    • Tempo Music is Revived in Publication of Music,New York Age, 1950-08-19 p.19
  • "Cabaret Bills," Variety, Dec. 1927
  • Wikipedia biographical sketch
  • Blog entry by niece in AfriGeneas Schools, Organizations, Churches and Institutions Forum
  • Mercer Ellington, DEIP, pp.48-49
  • Photographs:
... djp New