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Sat, 01.12.1946

George Duke, Musician, and Composer born

George Duke

*George Duke was born on this date in 1946.  He was a Black keyboardist, composer, singer-songwriter, and record producer.  

George M. Duke was born in San Rafael, California, 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 seven 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 jazz and American culture course 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.  In 1975, he worked with Sonny Rollins and played in a jazz-rock group with Billy Cobham, then co-led a funk band with Stanley Clarke. Duke's producing credits include tracks from Miles Davis' Tutu and Amandla, as well as Al Jarreau's Heart's Horizon.  Duke worked as musical director at the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1988.

In 1989, he was temporarily 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. Duke worked with numerous artists as an arranger, music director, writer and co-writer, record producer, and as professor of music. He died on August 5, 2013, in Los Angeles at the age of 67 from chronic lymphatic leukemia.  

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