Legendary Musician George Duke Has Died. Who Was George Duke?

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Radio Facts is sorry to report that vet musician George Duke died last night on August 5, 2013

george duke
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – AUGUST 24: George Duke performs on stage during the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz 2007 held in Newtown on August 24, 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

No word yet on what happened but we will keep you posted. Duke just completed an album and was in the process of promoting it after losing his wife and falling into a depression just a year ago.

Former Supremes’ member Sherrie Payne states: “I just received the devastating and sad news that the great musician, George Duke, passed away this evening at St. John’s hospital in L.A.  

It was just one year earlier, July 18th, that his beloved wife and my friend, Corine, went to be with the Lord. Please keep his sons, Rasheed and John, in your prayers.”  

History and Background of George Duke.

George Duke was born on 12 January 1946 in California. He was raised in Marin City, and he developed a love for music after his mother took him to see Duke Ellington perform. From there, he began studying the piano, and he started absorbing the roots of black music. The music started from his local Baptist Church, and by the time He was 16, he was playing with different high school jazz groups.

The Californian veteran began his music career in high school with his first jazz group. George Duke was not only a musician but also a producer, keyboardist, arranger, composer and bandleader. His first influencers were Miles Davis, Les McCann and Cal Tjader, who played a significant role in his music career.

After high school, the veteran proceeded to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he majored in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1967. He continued with his studies, acquired his master’s degree from the same school, and taught at Merritt Junior College. While in San Francisco, he was part of a house band at San Francisco’s Half Note with Al Jarreau. This band produced some of the most influential jazz musicians, including Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins.

The Evolution of George Duke’s Music Career

The George Duke Quartet, which was presented by Jazz workshop, was his first recording in 1967. It was released on Germany’s Saba imprint that later became MPS, a label he worked closely with in the ’70s. In 1969, George Duke made contact with Jean-Luc Ponty, a French violinist, and they made recordings.

The band gained popularity and got different gigs in the bay area and their performances. Later they come in contact with Frank Zappa and Cannon Adderley. He joined Zappas Mother of Invention, where he spent most of his time in 1969 and 1970. In 1971 and 1972, he worked as a pianist with Cannonball Adderley’s band and went back to Zappa from 1973 to 1975.

 In 1975, Duke worked together with Sonny Rollings, and he also co-led a group with Billy Cobham. All this time, Duke had been recording, and he had recorded six albums for MPS. The Faces in Reflection, Inner Source, I Love the Blues, She Heard My Cry, Fell, The Aura Will Prevail and Liberated Fantasies. He signed to CBS in late 1975 and produced his first solo album, From Me to You.

From 1976 Duke diversified his music and included disco, funk and soul elements in his compositions and. His breakthrough came in 1978 after the Reach for It album that got him performing in arenas. At this time, his career was at its peak, and he produced Follow the Rainbow and Brazilian Love Affair that raised the bar higher for him.

The 80s with the first Clarke and Duke Project recording with Stanley Clarke, and this project got him in the top 20s. He continued releasing solo music. In 1984 he joined Elektra, and he recorded Thief in the Night, George Duke and Night After Night.

This project moved him a notch higher and left him more popular.

In the 90s, Duke did the third and final Clarke/Duke project, after which he signed to Warner Bros and worked with the legendry label boss Mo Ostin where he hit the charts with his single “No Rhyme, No Reason.” Sung by Ferrell.

The biggest surprise, however, came in 1995 where he released The Muir Woods Suite, a project that took two years.

It was recorded live at the Monteux Jazz Festival where Duke was playing the Keyboards, Clarke was on Bass, Chester Thompson on drums and Paulinho Da Costa on Percussion fronting a symphony orchestra.

All those who criticized his music started taking an interest in his music again, but this time Duke was working alone, and he performed numerous times in concerts.

In 1996 Duke released Illusions and another single that still got him to remain on the charts. Till 2000 Duke continued to release albums that brought him to remain at the top of the charts. He left the label in the year 2000.

In 2002 Duke surprised everyone by mostly playing the acoustic piano, something he had not done in years. In 2006 he released a classic jazz album named In a Mellow Tone. Later in the year 2008, he returned to jazz-funk and R&B.

This time, he used more singers and musicians. In 2010 he released Déjà vu, and in 2012, he produced Jeffrey Osborne’s Time for Love album released in 2013.

This was when Corine passed on from cancer complications, and the jazz singer stayed away from music for some time. He went back to the studio in early 2013 and recorded Dream Weaver, and it was released in July the same year.

Awards Received By George Duke.

From his impeccable performances in the music industry, Duke was nominated for different awards and grabbed some awards. In 1982, he was nominated for the best R&B performance, The “Clarke/Duke Project.” Later in 1986, he got a nomination for “We are the World” in the best recording for children.

He was also nominated in 1991 for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals.

He was nominated for the Best Instrumental Arrangement award again in 1999 for the “look of love.” In the same year, 1999, he was also nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance” After Hours.”

In 2001, he grabbed his first award for Best Jazz Vocal Album “In the Moment-Live in Concert” In 2002, he also won the Best Jazz Vocal Album “The calling.”

In 2006 he was nominated unfortunately did not win the award. However, as his career came to an end, the talented jazz musician won the Soul Train Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Artist.

Final Thoughts

From the musical journey of Duke, we see a man who fought against all odds to be better and change the world with his music. The legendry depicts a journey of resilience and hard work.

He also shows the importance of teamwork. Even in death, he inspires many through his music and all the artists he helped become better.

Radio Facts talked to one of Duke’s closest friends Vic McLean about his life, current state and legacy here.

Radio Facts editor Kevin Ross talked to Vic McLean, a former Universal Music Group Manager for Verve Music and one of George Duke’s closest friends this morning.

McLean is as expected, devastated by the news and states he quit his position at Verve to work with George Duke exclusively. George had surgery yesterday and was in the hospital under an alias in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he did not pull through. 

Radio Facts : What was it like to work with George?

Vic McLean: George was the best producer, writer, engineer, performer, arranger you name it. He was a workaholic who loved what he did. He could take a person who sings flat like Dee Dee Bridgewater and make her sound amazing. Quincy Jones is great at putting people together but George could do it all.

Many people didn’t know many of the other things that he did. He didn’t often get the support that he needed from the major labels but he was truly amazing. Whenever we were on the road no matter if he opened, was the 2nd, 3rd or close to the last act, George always stole every fugin’ show. (laughs) He had old people in walkers jamin’ in the house.

RF: How did George feel about being an older artist in today’s industry?

VM: George had the same issues that many older artists have with record companies. Lack of promotion. The two independent records that we did together sold more than his major label releases did. He also never saw the kind of revenue he should have seen.RF: Was George depressed during the 1st anniversary of his late wife Corine’s death recently?

VM: When people are very close and they are together for a long time this is usually what happens. After one goes the other one follows. They had a very unique marriage. She was his rock. George knew his time was near.

He always kept his health issues close to the vest. The Concord label that he gave the last record to recently was a true George Duke record. I hope they promote this record right.

RF: How are his children doing?

VM: His son Rachid is overwhelmed. He’s had to deal with the loss of his mom and his dad within a year.

RF: Have you talked to Stanley Clark?

VM: I called Stanley a couple of times this morning and I have not been able to reach him. Like the rest of us, he’s probably devastated about the whole thing.

RF: Any closing words about George?

VM: The best time I have had in my entire career in the industry was working with George Duke independently. I had him up at 5am and I wanted to make sure we treated every release like we never put out a record before. He did everything I asked him to do and just had a great work ethic. Thanks so much Kevin. Having an opportunity to talk with you has really helped me this morning.




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