In third place in the ratings, and lagging well behind the other two major networks in their coverage of the Apollo program, ABC-TV News decided to spice up its coverage a bit of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and commissioned Duke Ellington to compose and perform an original song. Moon Maiden, written for piano, base and drums, would also be Ellington’s public debut as a vocalist. “At my age, I don’t really need an excuse to do anything,” said Ellington to reporters at a press conference, discussing his first and only performance as a vocalist after taping the song at ABC Studios in New York for broadcast at 10:00 pm on July 20, 1969. “I just felt I could do it. But it’s a one shot thing.”
Ellington, who said he had written or composed more than 5,000 songs, admitted it was difficult creating a romantic mood about a space ship. “The train was the most romantic vehicle we ever had,” he said, explaining the title of his song. “If you ever heard the C&O whistle blowing blues – that whistle was something. There’s got to be a girl out there for a man to be singing about.”
ABC also commissioned poet James Dickey to write and read an original poem; however, it was Ellington’s lyrics and his first vocal performance that were often written about and reprinted in newspapers across the country on the morning before Neil Armstrong’s famous first steps. In what would have made for a perfect YouTube viral video of today, Ellington performed and taped the song against a studio set that simulated the Apollo 11 lunar landing, complete with a mock-up of the Apollo 11 LEM.