It is difficult to imagine many teenagers having the maturity to write a song as introspective and worldly as "Lush Life." Yet, it was 16 year-old Billy Strayhorn who set to work on the jazz standard that was originally called "Life Is Lonely." It would be many years later when he would debut the song with vocalist Kay Davis at a Carnegie Hall performance on November 13, 1948.
Strayhorn was not the typical teenager, though. His mother fueled his desire for knowledge with books and sheet music. His classmates called him "Dictionary." Strayhorn bought his own piano by saving up money he earned as a soda jerk. All the while, the piano prodigy dreamed of a more rich – or lush – life than the one he had in the shadow of the steel industry of Pittsburgh.
Strayhorn was 23 when he met 39-year-old Duke Ellington, who was in Pittsburgh for a show at the Crawford Grill. He impressed Ellington with an impromptu performance of a new arrangement of one of Ellington's own songs. Eventually, Strayhorn would collaborate with Ellington on some of jazz's best-known classics, including "Take the A Train
." In fact, 'Take the A Train" was a hit before "Lush Life" made it's first public appearance.