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George Duke

George Duke was born George Mac Duke on January 12, 1946, in San Rafael, California. Duke was raised in Marin City, a working class section of Marin County. After his mother took him to see Duke Ellington perform, he started studying the piano and began absorbing the roots of black music in his local Baptist church. Duke attended Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. By the age of sixteen, Duke was playing with a number of high school jazz groups. He received his B.A. degree in music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, majoring in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass. He then obtained his M.A. degree in composition from San Francisco State University.

Duke first captured the attention of the jazz world with his collaboration with Jean-Luc Ponty and the album The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio. In the early 1970s, Duke became known for his solo work as well as for his collaborations with other musicians, particularly Frank Zappa. Duke joined veteran jazzman Julian "Cannonball" Adderley in 1971. Through “Cannonball”, he was given the opportunity to meet and work with artists such as Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Stanley Clarke, Flora Purim and Airto Moriera. In 1973, Duke rejoined Zappa and brought Jean-Luc Ponty with him. That band stayed together for the next three years, until Duke left to join forces with drummer Billy Cobham. In 1976, Duke became a solo artist and enjoyed success with a series of fusion-oriented LP's such as, From Me To You. In 1978, Duke’s funk heavy album Reach For It went gold and propelled him to the top of the music charts. A year later, he recorded his best known album, A Brazilian Love Affair. About the same time, Duke decided to begin a career in music producing. His breakthrough in producing came with an album by A Taste of Honey. The single, "Sukiyaki," went to Number 1 on the pop, adult contemporary and R & B charts, ultimately selling over two million copies. Duke went on to produce and collaborate with such artists as Jeffrey Osborne, Deniece Williams, Stanley Clarke, Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, The Pointer Sisters, Gladys Knight and Anita Baker. In addition, Duke has acted as musical director for numerous musical television specials, including the Soul Train Music Awards. During the 1990s, Duke also established a career in television and film scoring, working on the music for such films as The Five Heartbeats, Karate Kid III, Leap Of Faith, Good Fences and Never Die Alone. In 2001, Duke won a Grammy Award for producing the Best Jazz Vocal Album: Dianne Reeves’ In The Moment. In 2005, Duke served as artist and emcee for a special series of concerts in India as part of a delegation of American jazz musicians sent on a State Department tour to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.

Duke continues to both produce and release new albums, his latest being Dukey Treats in 2008. Duke is the recipient of numerous awards including multiple Grammy nominations, the Edison Life Time Achievement Award, and Keyboard Magazine’s "R&B Keyboardist of The Year."

George Duke passed away on August 5, 2013.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category

Tamalpais High School

San Francisco Conservatory of Music

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

San Rafael



Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

Be Still, And Know That I Am God.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles



Favorite Food


Death Date


Short Description

Jazz pianist and music producer George Duke (1946 - 2013 ) won multiple Grammy Awards. He worked with Frank Zappa and Jean-Luc Ponty before becoming a solo artist. Duke then collaborated with artists like Barry Manilow, The Pointer Sisters, Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson. Duke composed film and television scores, and was musical director of the Soul Train Music Awards.


George Duke Productions

Epic Records

MPS Records

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of George Duke's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - George Duke lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - George Duke describes his mother's family background, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - George Duke describes his mother's family background, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - George Duke talks about the lynching of his maternal great-grandmother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - George Duke describes his mother's education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - George Duke describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - George Duke remembers his father's alcoholism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - George Duke describes how he takes after his mother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - George Duke talks about his maternal relatives, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - George Duke talks about his maternal relatives, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - George Duke remembers seeing Duke Ellington in concert</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - George Duke remembers his early exposure to jazz</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - George Duke describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - George Duke describes the community of Marin City, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - George Duke talks about the instruments he played as a child</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - George Duke remembers Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - George Duke recalls enrolling at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - George Duke remembers the San Francisco Conservatory of Music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - George Duke talks about the importance of musicianship</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - George Duke remembers the jazz scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - George Duke remembers the jazz scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - George Duke remembers his collaborations with Jean-Luc Ponty</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - George Duke talks about working with Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderley</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - George Duke remembers meeting Brazilian musicians</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - George Duke remembers his collaborations with Billy Cobham</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - George Duke describes his early musical influences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - George Duke remembers his early records</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - George Duke recalls his foray into funk music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - George Duke remembers his transition to music production</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - George Duke remembers producing 'Let's Hear It for the Boy'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - George Duke recalls working with Anita Baker and Luther Vandross</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - George Duke remembers his career in music production</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - George Duke remembers producing songs for Dianne Reeves and Miles Davis</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - George Duke remembers Miles Davis</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - George Duke reflects upon the significance of lyrics, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - George Duke remembers Bootsy Collins</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - George Duke reflects upon the significance of lyrics, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - George Duke remembers composing film scores</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - George Duke recalls composing music for television programs</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - George Duke talks about the jazz music industry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - George Duke reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - George Duke reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - George Duke talks about his family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - George Duke describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - George Duke narrates his photographs</a>







George Duke remembers his transition to music production
George Duke remembers producing songs for Dianne Reeves and Miles Davis
I started doing records with Stanley Clarke. Came up with the idea of this song called "Sweet Baby," which became the biggest hit I've ever had overall. It's kind of like a pop song. And of course my relationship with Stanley has developed over the years. We've done, what, three albums to the present, solo records. But at the same time--you see, all of this was going on kind of simultaneously--I began producing records. And so what happened is essentially I began by--early on, in 1968, actually, working with a group of Filipino girls. There were five of them. And they were like s- eleven to seventeen, and they were called The Third Wave. They have a record called 'Here And Now,' and I produced an album for them which came out only in Germany. And I said, man, I think I got a future in this. And so, fortunately I was able to do a record with, from--what's his name? [HistoryMaker] Larkin Arnold, who was then at Capitol Records, asked me to produce this guy who was a trombone player. I said, would be great. His name was Raul de Souza. And I had been working with Raul de Souza with Flora Purim. So I said, "I'd love to do it." So I did two albums with Raul. And I was a trombone player, so I understood. We, we, kind of had, we had a hit record, man. It was a thing called 'Sweet Lucy' in Germany, and became a big record, you know. And so we got a chance to do a second record. And then I was asked by a guy named Don Mizell to produce a vocal act who was [HistoryMaker] Dee Dee Bridgewater, which was the first vocal act I'd ever produced outside of The Third Wave, the vocal group. I really wasn't ready to do that. You know, musically I'd never done it, and I wasn't sure. And I apologized to Dee Dee over the years. But we did what we did. And then the big break came, I mean, the real big break, by a guy named Bobby Colomby, who was a former drummer with Blood, Sweat and Tears, who actually offered me to produce A Taste of Honey, which was a big disco group. Now, disco had become very strong at this time, and the funk thing had kind of died down. So I figured this whole producing thing might be a way for me, an alternate way for me to make a living.$$So this is like in the late '70s [1970s]?$$This is '80 [1980] now.$$Eighties [1980s], '80s [1980s]. Okay, Taste of Honey.$$Yeah, Taste of Honey, right after--what year did that record come out? It would have been seventy--I would say '78 [1978]. Yeah, yeah, '79 [1979] or '80 [1980], '78 [1978], '79 [1979], '80 [1980]. And they already had 'Boogie Oogie Oogie,' which was their big hit. So, Bobby Colomby, we were going to produce this record together, he decided to bow out. He said, "Yeah, I got other things to do. I'm a big record exec. You do this. You can do this." I was scared to death. I mean here I am working with a platinum selling artist, platinum. I had never--you know, I'm working with jazz artists; you don't sell those kind of numbers. So I walk in the studio, scared to death. Do the song. First single comes out, nothing happens. The second single comes out, nothing happens. So I'm like, oh, god, I've blown my career. Third single--Janice [Janice Marie Johnson], who was the bass player, kind of leader of the group, was a song called "Sukiyaki," which became a huge hit. It sold 2 million records. She says, "I know this is a hit record." And she had, she made the company sign a paper or something saying that if these first two singles come out and they don't happen, you must agree to put this record out, because I know it's a hit record. They said, "You're out of your mind." I thought she was out of her mind. Record came out and became a huge hit, and launched my production career. All of a sudden when you have a record--you know, it was a single--comes out and you sell those kind of numbers, the phone starts ringing. I got a call from Jeffrey Osborne. Jeffrey says, "I want you to come produce my album, man. I'm leaving L.T.D." And I'd known Jeffrey because we'd done some dates together, you know, with one of those funk tours, you know, where they have all of the R and B bands. And I was kind of the only kind of jazz R and B band in that, that crew. So, we did several records. One was 'On the Wings of Love,' (unclear) love, those kind of records, which were very strong for Jeffrey. I did 'Stay with Me Tonight,' and one other record after that. So we did three very, very, strong records, all of them Gold records. I think one of them went Platinum, or two. Don't remember now. Deniece Williams, we got, I started working with her. We did a song called, "Let's Hear It for the Boy," which became a huge hit. Thirteen million records later, now my phone's even ringing more.$And of course, I've always enjoyed working with my cousin, Dianne [HistoryMaker Dianne Reeves]. Now Miles was deep, too, producing these tracks for Miles Davis. You know, Miles called me on the phone one day and said, "Hey, hey, George [HistoryMaker George Duke]." I said, "Who is this?" He said, "This is Miles." And then he swore at me. I won't swear right now. He swore at me. I said, "Okay, what's up?" He says, "I want you to write me a song." I said, "Okay." He said, "I'm going to send you a tape, and I want you to write me something like that. Bye." And hung up. And he sent me this tape, and I listened to the tape. And I did this thing-- interesting thing. I did this thing, and I was working on it and Dianne Reeves walks in. She says, "What's that?" I said, "It's a track I'm putting together for Miles." She said, "Oh, no, no, no, this is going on my album." She said, "I need a track like this on my album." I said, "No, I'm writing this for Miles." She said, "Well, you got to call and tell him he can't have it. We family." I said, "You call Miles and tell him he can't have it." And so she said, "Come on, come on now." She put that Burrell charm on me. So I went out, called Miles on the phone. I said, "Miles?" He said, "Yeah. You finish my song?" I said, "Yeah, man, I got it. But there's only one problem." He says, "What?" I said, "You know Dianne Reeves? You know she's a--you know, she's a--." "Yeah, I know her." I said, "Well, she heard me while I was working on it." I said, "I got this other song for you." I said, "But this one, she really wants to use." He said, "Tell that bitch to get her own song." I said, "You know, Miles, look, this is family." I said, "Can you--?" Shit. Oh, he went off on her, you know, and then finally he gave it up. I said, "I got this," I said, "I got this other song, I'm going to send it to you later. If you don't like it, then I'll get this other song back for you." So he said, okay, he hung up. I gave the song to Dianne, it was nominated for a Grammy [Grammy Award], actually, a song called "Fumilayo." It didn't win, but it was nominated. And then I sent Miles the other song and he wound up using that, which was called "Backyard Ritual," which was a song that was on the 'Tutu' album, which kind of set the tone for what that album was going to be. Because he was looking, Miles was looking for something. And though that was a demo--you know, I sent it to him in a demo form. And I thought we'd go in the studio and record it, and Miles--I said, I asked him when he was going to go and record it, and he said, "I'm done." I said, "Done?" I said, "We ain't recorded it yet." I said, I said, "What I sent you was a demo." He said, "I like it, because it sound funny." I said, "Yeah, Miles, but that's, that's a demo," you know, those little old stupid saxophone synthesizer sound. He said, "I like it, it sounds funny. I'm going to leave it like that." So I was like, oh, my god. My first time--my hero, working with Miles Davis, and he's putting a demo on the album. I couldn't believe it. And that's exactly what happened. So, it was an odd experience.