George Duke: His Music Is His Legacy

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Sometimes the heavens reward us with divinely inspired artists. One such individual was Grammy winner George Duke. Keyboardist, composer, singer, producer, arranger, director, writer, and professor of music, Duke went boldly into the recesses of music, performing and experimenting in multiple genres of melody.  His talent knew no bounds as he explored electronic, acoustical, jazz fusion, Latin, Brazilian, avant-garde, gospel, mainstream, funk, R&B, Soul, etc.  You name it and Duke could produce it, arrange it, play it or write it.

The world weeps when one of its greats departs knowing each of us are unique unto ourselves, so there will never be another George Duke.  Duke, whose musical career spanned over 40 years, died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, on August 5, 2013 at age 67, in Los Angeles.  His death follows on the heels of his beloved wife, Corine, who died from cancer on July 18, 2012.  People express grief in various ways and for Duke, momentarily the music stopped. He was unable to make music for months after Corine’s passing.  Eventually he conquered his grief by creating the album “Dreamweaver,” in tribute to Corine.  The song “Missing You,” is an expression of his love.

Mr. Duke was born in San Rafael, Calif. He attended Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, before earning a bachelor’s degree in composition and trombone from the San Francisco Conservatory; later earning a Masters Degree from San Francisco State University.  He went on to perform with Frank Zappa and played in the Don Ellis Orchestra. He met Stanley Clarke with whom he formed the Clarke/Duke Project producing the hit song "Sweet Baby" which ranked in the Top 20 on the Billboard pop charts. 

 Duke played with the Canonball Adderley Band and also as a keyboardist on Michael Jackson’s album “Off the Wall.”  He became a solo artist in 1976.  Many people also remember George’s collaboration with French violinist and composer, Jean-Luc Ponty.  He released more than 30 solo albums. He also produced for Miles Davis, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick and Natalie Cole.

Duke blended his talents with a number of artists which included his cousin Dianne Reeves.  He collaborated with Teena Marie, Rachelle Ferrell, Al Jarreau, George Clinton, Anita Baker, Chante Moore, Marilyn Scott, Herb Ellis, Jeffrey Osborne, Sheila E and Deniece Williams.  As a record producer and composer, he worked with Miles Davis on his albums “Backyard Ritual” and “Cobra.”  Duke ventured into Brazilian music working with Milton Nascimento, singer Flora Purim and percussionist Airto Moreira, recording the album “A Brazilian Love Affair.”  He worked on Jill Scott’s album “The Real Things: Words and Sounds Vol. 3, and guested on the track “Whenever You’re Around.”  In 2011, he toured the US with David Sanborn and Marcus Miller as part of a trio, performing in over 20 sold out shows.

The world will miss George Duke but he amassed such a huge music repertoire it’s impossible to list all his accomplishments and contributions. From 2000 to 2013, Duke gave the world treasures like “Cool,” “Face the Music,” “Duke,” “In a Mellow Tone,” “Dukey Treats”, “Déjà vu, and “this year, “Dreamweaver.”  He was inducted into The Soul Music Hall Of Fame in 2012 and was a musical director for the Soul Train Music Awards and other special events. He also scored songs for "The Five Heartbeats" and "Karate Kid III soundtracks."

Life is often about choices and what you want to leave in your wake. If one is remembered fondly and can leave a beautiful part of oneself behind, then that soul has lived a life well served. Stanley Clarke said of Duke after his death, "Duke lived the life of 30 musicians. He attacked life as much as life attacked him. He was a true soldier of music. He could very possibly be the nicest man I've ever met."

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