George Duke
George Duke sings on stage in 2010.
George Duke sings on stage in 2010.
Background information
Born(1946-01-12)January 12, 1946
San Rafael, California, U.S.
DiedAugust 5, 2013(2013-08-05) (aged 67)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, musical director, producer, educator
Instrument(s)Vocals, piano, synthesizer, saxophone, keytar, flute, bass guitar, trombone
Years active1966–2013

George M. Duke (January 12, 1946 – August 5, 2013)[2] 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 32 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 M. Duke was born in San Rafael, California, United States,[2] to Thadd Duke and Beatrice Burrell 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 seven at a local Baptist church.[3]

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.[3] He earned a master's degree in composition from San Francisco State University in 1975.[4]

Although Duke started playing classical music, he credited his cousin Charles Burrell for convincing him to switch to jazz.[5][6] 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.[3]

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.[7] Zappa played guitar solos on his album Feel (1974). In 1975 he recorded with Pete Magadini (his Original drummer) the album Polyrhythm on Ibis Recordings. He recorded I Love the Blues She Heard My Cry with Zappa's bandmates Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, and Bruce Fowler[8] and jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour.[9]

Duke occasionally recorded under the name Dawilli Gonga, possibly for contractual reasons, when appearing on other artists' albums.[10]

Duke in concert with Stanley Clarke
Duke in concert with Stanley Clarke

In 1977, Duke fused jazz with pop, funk, and soul music on his album From Me to You. Later, that same year, 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&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, Seawind, and Take 6.[7]

Duke worked as musical director at the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London. In 1989, he temporarily replaced Marcus Miller as musical director of NBC's late-night music performance program Sunday Night during its first season.[11] He was a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards.[12]

He died on August 5, 2013,[2] in Los Angeles, at the age of 67 from chronic lymphocytic leukemia.[13]

Awards and honors

Grammy awards

The Grammy Awards are awarded annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Duke has received two awards out of nine nominations.[14]

Year Category Nominated work Result
1981 Best R&B 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 R&B 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

Other honors

Duke performing on keyboards in 2010
Duke performing on keyboards in 2010

He was inducted into The SoulMusic Hall of Fame at[15]

Al Jarreau recorded the tribute album My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke (Concord, 2014) with songs written by Duke. Appearing on the album were Gerald Albright, Stanley Clarke, Dr. John, Lalah Hathaway, Boney James, Marcus Miller, Jeffrey Osborne, Greg Phillinganes, Kelly Price, Dianne Reeves (Duke's cousin), and Patrice Rushen. The album received the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album.[16]


Main article: George Duke discography


  1. ^ Artist Biography by Thom Jurek (1946-01-12). "George Duke | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  2. ^ a b c "George Duke obituary". The Guardian. 7 August 2013. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c "George Duke biography". George Duke Online. Retrieved January 30, 2016.
  4. ^ "Duke of Jazz".
  5. ^ Coryell, Julie; Friedman, Laura (2000). Jazz-rock Fusion: The People, the Music. Hal Leonard. pp. 192–. ISBN 978-0-7935-9941-7. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  6. ^ Digital, The Standard. "Legendary Jazz Artiste George Duke's Final Bow". Standard Digital News. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  7. ^ a b Jurek, Thom. "George Duke". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  8. ^ Watson, Ben, Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play, St Martin's Press, New York, 1993, p. 294.
  9. ^ I Love the Blues She Heard My Cry, MPS Records-BAP 5071/BASF 5071/MPS Records MC 25671, 1975, sleeve notes
  10. ^ "George Duke".
  11. ^ "Sunday Night" episodes No.104 (1988), No.113 (1989), No.114 (1989), No.121 (1989)
  12. ^ "Independent Music Awards". Independent Music Awards. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  13. ^ "Jazz keyboardist George Duke dies at 67 - MSN Music News". Archived from the original on 2014-01-06. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  14. ^ "George Duke". 19 November 2019.
  15. ^ "The Soulmusic Hall Of Fame: Legacy (Posthumous) (Inductees) | Soul Music worldwide". Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  16. ^ Mitchell, Gail (August 5, 2014). "Al Jarreau Salutes George Duke on New Star-Packed Album". Retrieved January 30, 2016.