This song was written by Hall of Fame songwriter Billy Strayhorn, who was a piano player in Ellington's band, and composed the classic songs "Take the A Train
" and "Lotus Blossom
By the time that Billy Strayhorn finished the piece that was originally called "Blue Cloud" and sent it to Duke Ellington, Strayhorn was down to 80 pounds and in the final months of his life. Years of excessive use of alcohol and cigarettes had likely led to the cancer in his esophagus that ravaged his body. The song that became "Blood Count" was intended to be the first in a three-part arrangement for Ellington, but it was Strayhorn's final composition and was included on Duke Ellington's August 1967 tribute album, And His Mother Called Him Bill
on RCA Victor. Ellington debuted "Blood Count" at a concert in Carnegie Hall in March 1967 with Johnny Hodges on the sax and Strayhorn confined to a hospital bed.