This past week we lost legendary keyboardist, composer and performer George Duke. He publicist announced that he passed away on Monday, August 5, 2013.
George Duke led a successful career that spanned a variety of genres including funk, jazz, soul and R&B over the last several decades. Throughout his career he not only collaborated with other legendary perfumers such as Miles Davis, Barry Manilow, George Clinton, Frank Zappa, and Jill Scott, but built an incredible reputation for himself as an artist and composer in his own right.
He had most recently released Dreamweaver (2013 on Concord Records), his latest solo album and tribute to his wife Corine who passed away in 2012. Get DreamWeaver on Amazon.
Duke was born in San Rafael, California on January 12, 1946. He began playing the piano at the age of four and went on to study trombone and composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, earning his degree in 1967. He continued his studies at San Francisco State University where he earned his Master’s degree while working with a trio that backed (then up and coming) Al Jarreau.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, George Duke worked with a myriad of well-known performers such as Frank Zappa, Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, et al. In 1977 he signed with Epic Records and released “From Me to You” and “Reach for It.” He would go on to release some thirty-odd records as a solo artist.
In the 1980s, he also worked as a producer and composer with trumpeter Miles Davis on “Backyard Ritual” and “Amandla.” He additionally teamed up with Stanley Clarke to form the Clarke/Duke Project and “Sweet Baby,” the hit single from the album was a huge success. As a producer, he worked with Phillip Bailey, Rufus, Jeffrey Osborne and many more. In 1988, he served as the musical director for the Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium.
The widespread influence of George Duke can be seen in a variety of genres. His has been sampled by groups and artists such Daft Punk, Kanye West, and Ice Cube, and that doesn’t even begin to detail the generations of musicians that have been influenced by his music.
I did not have the opportunity to meet or perform with George Duke like many of my peers, but I have been blessed with the chance to see him perform and play alongside him on “This Masquerade” from U-Nam’s album Weekend in LA: A Tribute to George Benson. We lost a great musician this week, but his memory and his music remain with us, and for that we can be grateful. Thank you George Duke for your beautiful, innovative and inspiring music.
George Duke was 67.