George M. Duke (January 12, 1946 – August 5, 2013) was an American keyboardist, composer, singer-songwriter and record producer. He worked with numerous artists as arranger, music director, writer and co-writer, record producer and as a professor of music. He first made a name for himself with the album The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio. He was known primarily for thirty-odd solo albums, of which A Brazilian Love Affair from 1979 was his most popular, as well as for his collaborations with other musicians, particularly Frank Zappa.
George Duke was born in San Rafael, California and raised in Marin City. At four years old he became interested in the piano. His mother took him to see Duke Ellington in concert and told him about this experience. "I don't remember it too well, but my mother told me I went crazy. I ran around saying 'Get me a piano, get me a piano!'" He began his formal piano studies at the age of 7 at a local Baptist church.
He attended Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley before earning a bachelor's degree in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1967. He earned a master's degree in composition from San Francisco State University in 1975.
Although Duke started playing classical music, he credited his cousin Charles Burrell for convincing him to switch to jazz. He explained that he "wanted to be free" and Burrell "more or less made the decision for me" by convincing him to "improvise and do what you want to do." He taught a course on jazz and American culture at Merritt College in Oakland.
Duke recorded his first album in 1966. His second was with French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, with whom he performed in San Francisco. After Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderley heard him play, they invited him to join their bands. He spent two years with Zappa as a member of The Mothers of Invention, two years with Adderley, then returned to Zappa. Zappa played guitar solos on his album Feel (1974). He recorded I Love the Blues She Heard My Cry with Zappa's bandmates Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, and Bruce Fowler and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour.
In 1975, Duke fused jazz with pop, funk, and soul music on his album From Me to You. Three years later his album Reach for It entered the pop charts, and his audiences increased. During the 1980s his career moved to a second phase as he spent much of his time as a record producer. He produced pop and R and B hits for A Taste of Honey, Jeffrey Osborne, and Deniece Williams. His clients included Anita Baker, Rachelle Ferrell, Everette Harp, Gladys Knight, Melissa Manchester, Barry Manilow, The Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, and Take 6.
Duke worked as musical director at the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1988. In 1989, he temporarily replaced Marcus Miller as musical director of NBC's late-night music performance program Sunday Night during its first season. He was a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards.
George M. Duke died on August 5, 2013 in Los Angeles at the age of 67 from chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He is buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
Awards and honors
The Grammy Awards are awarded annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Duke has received two awards out of nine nominations.
Year Category Nominated work Result
1981 Best RandB Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal The Clarke/Duke Project Nominated
1985 Best Recording for Children "We Are The World (single)" Nominated
1990 "Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s)" Fumilayo (Track) Nominated
1998 Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s) "The Look Of Love (Track)" Nominated
Best Contemporary Jazz Performance "After Hours" Nominated
2000 Best Traditional RandB Vocal Album "Cool" Nominated
Best Jazz Vocal Album "In the Moment – Live in Concert" Won
2001 Best Jazz Vocal Album "The Calling" Won
2005 Best Pop Instrumental Performance "T-Jam" Nominated
He was inducted into The SoulMusic Hall of Fame at SoulMusic.com
Al Jarreau recorded the tribute album My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke (Concord, 2014) with songs written by Duke. Appearing the album were Gerald Albright, Stanley Clarke, Dr. John, Lalah Hathaway, Boney James, Marcus Miller, Jeffrey Osborne, Kelly Price, Dianne Reeves (Duke's cousin), and Patrice Rushen. The album received the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album.
The George Duke Quartet (1966)
Save the Country (1970)
The Inner Source (1973)
Faces in Reflection (1974)
The Aura Will Prevail (1975)
I Love the Blues, She Heard My Cry (1975)
Liberated Fantasies (1976)
From Me to You (1977)
Reach for It (1977)
The 1976 Solo Keyboard Album (1978)
Don't Let Go (1978)
Follow the Rainbow (1979)
Master of the Game (1979)
A Brazilian Love Affair (1980)
Dream On (1982)
Guardian of the Light (1983)
Thief in the Night (1985)
George Duke (1986)
Night After Night (1989)
Is Love Enough? (1997)
After Hours (1998)
Face the Music (2002)
In a Mellow Tone (2006)
Dukey Treats (2008)
Déjà Vu (2010)
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7. Watson, Ben, Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play, St Martin's Press, New York, 1993, p. 294.
8. I Love the Blues She Heard My Cry, MPS Records-BAP 5071/BASF 5071/MPS Records MC 25671, 1975, sleeve notes
9. "Sunday Night" episodes No.104 (1988), No.113 (1989), No.114 (1989), No.121 (1989)
10. "Independent Music Awards". Independent Music Awards. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
11. "Jazz keyboardist George Duke dies at 67 - MSN Music News". Music.msn.com. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
12. "George Duke". Grammy.com.
13. "The Soulmusic Hall Of Fame: Legacy (Posthumous) (Inductees) | Soul Music worldwide". www.soulmusic.com. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
14. Mitchell, Gail (August 5, 2014). "Al Jarreau Salutes George Duke on New Star-Packed Album". Billboard. Billboard. Retrieved January 30, 2016.