Ellington began piano lessons at age seven. Over the years, he listened to and consciously imitated many jazz and ragtime pianists, eventually learning to read music; and he began playing in cafés and clubs around Washington, D.C. Success led to his forming his first group in 1917.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Ellington toured with his band and continued writing songs, including -- in the 1930s -- some of the great American songs: "Mood Indigo" (1930), "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" (1932), "Sophisticated Lady" (1933), "Solitude" (1934), "In a Sentimental Mood" (1935), "Caravan" (1937), and "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" (1938).
Ellington was nominated for (but did not win) a Pulitzer Prize in 1965, the same year as the premiere of his first Sacred Concert, an attempt to fuse jazz and Christian liturgy in concert form. A second Sacred Concert followed in 1968, and a third in 1973.
"Come Sunday" (The United Methodist Hymnal, no. 728) was written by Ellington as an instrumental set piece in his 1943 jazz suite Black, Brown and Beige, scored for big band, solo sax, and jazz violin. Ellington composed the lyrics in 1958 and included it in the first performance of his Sacred Service No. 1 in 1965. (See "Come Sunday" Hymn Study.)