Vladimir Dukelsky was a much-respected Russian composer of classical music as well as a poet of some distinction. He became Vernon Duke, one of the most successful American songwriters sophisticated popular songs.
He was born Vladimir Alexandrovich Dukelsky in Russia on October 10, 1903. His mother was traveling to Pskov at the time, but was detained at a railway station in the nearby village of Prafianovo in order to give birth. His family belonged to the Russian nobility--one of his grandmothers held the rank of Princess. Growing up in Kiev, Dukelsky showed remarkable musical talent early as a child, and was admitted to the Kiev Conservatory when he was eleven years old. At the Conservatory, he studied with the distinguished composer Reinhold Gliere, and one of his contemporaries there, born less than two weeks earlier, was the young Vladimir Horowitz.
When civil war broke out in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Dukelsky's family, like many other members of the nobility, fled the country. By 1920, after assorted adventures, they had arrived and settled in Constantinople (Istanbul), where the teenaged Dukelsky played the piano in cafes.
In 1921, the Dukelsky family managed to reach New York, where Vladimir Dukelsky's classical compositions began to receive attention, and where Dukelsky became friendly with George Gershwin. Gershwin encouraged him in his ambitions to write popular songs in the American style, saying, "Do not be scared about going low-brow". Gershwin also suggested that, if he wanted to be part of American popular culture, "Vernon Duke" might be a good pen name. Dukelsky accepted Gershwin's suggestion and from that time he used "Dukelsky" for his…